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René de BOISDEFFRE (1838-1906)
Works for Violin, Cello and Piano
Suite Romantique Op 24 for violin and piano (1890s) [23:03]
Trois Pièces Op 54 for violin, cello and piano (pub.1894) [12:51]
Trois Pièces Op 20 for violin and piano (pub.c.1881) [8:37]
Poème Pastoral Op 87 for piano, violin and cello (pub.c.1894) [17:36]
Doux Souvenir, Elégie Op 15 No 2 for violin and piano (pub.c.1880) [2:36]
Adagietto pour violon Op 15 No 4 for violin and piano (pub.c.1880) [2:35]
Prière Op 26 No 2 for violin and piano (1868) [3:39]
Au bord d'un Ruisseau – sérenade champĕtre Op 52 for violin and piano (pub.1898) [3:00]
2me Elévation Op 61 for violin and piano [2:42]
Andrzej Kacprzak, Dominik Urbanowicz (violin)
Anna Sawicka (cello)
Anna Mikolon (piano)
rec. August 2019 and July 2020 at Radio Gdańsk

It would seem that at the beginning of this century the name René de Boisdeffre was as unfamiliar to Jan Jarnicki, founder of the admirably exploratory label Acte Préalable, as it is to me. Scores of his music in the Sibley library had piqued Jarnicki's interest and he tracked down more of his music and a group of musicians who could breathe life into these forgotten scores. Acte Préalable has gained a reputation for championing the works of unknown and neglected composers, mostly Polish, and in the last four years they have certainly done that for de Boisdeffre; thirteen CDs and counting covering nearly all of the genres he wrote for.

So who was he? René le Mouton de Boisdeffre was born in Vesoul in the East of France and died in Vézelise just north of there in 1906. His poor physique meant that he didn't follow in the family's military tradition and was instead influenced by the musical talents of his gifted mother. His formal tuition was in Paris with Charles Wagner and Auguste Barbereau, teacher of Ambroise Thomas and he was also to benefit from contact with Saint-Saëns and Massenet. He appears to favour chamber music though there are many songs and orchestral choral works as well as several piano pieces including a Suite Lorraine (which I will forbear from making a bad jazz pun about).

Four of his works for violin and piano appeared on the very first Boisdeffre CD played by Dejan Bogdanovich (AP0362 review ~ review) and we have several more here as well as two short collections in which the violin is joined by cello. Though there are two multi movement works here, the six movement Suite romantique and the four movement Poème Pastoral, this is effectively a recital of short character pieces. I am enchanted by the melodiousness and imagination of this music and struck by no obvious hints of other composers peaking through the texture though the lyrical style is not unlike more familiar French composers, Saint-Saëns and Massenet amongst them. This is beautiful mid romantic music and many of these works would grace a programme today, as a delicious encore if nothing else. I would single out the Poème Pastoral for its colour and melody; it opens with matinée de Printemps, a lyrical duet for violin and cello that explores different textures in the re-iteration of its themes. Timbre is important in the next movement, Angelus, opening with the strings high and muted, bell-like against the piano's melancholy theme. I initially thought the opening of Sous bois, marked lent et expressif was played too fast but as the piece continued I feel that the gentle flowing is entirely suitable for the pastorale nature of the music. The last piece, Sur le pré describes a meadow evidently stirred by breezes. The syncopated middle section is charming in its playfulness.

The Suite Romantique opens with an Invocation, a passionate dialogue between piano and violin. The Ballade that follows has dark-hued tones in its subdued restlessness. The piano continues with a rocking accompaniment throughout but the violin changes into duple time for a more positive second theme. The Cantilena, as with much of the music on this CD, cements Boisdeffre's position as a supreme melodist. A merry serenade follows in the form of a humorous Badinage whilst lyrical simplicity is the tone of the récit that follows. A grand Hymne triomphal brings proceedings to a resounding finish.

The three pieces for piano trio Op 54 comprise a yearning duet for the strings, a Légende characterised by supple flowing lines and the occasional oh-so-gentle hints of piquancy in the harmony. A sunny allegro completes the set. Sunny aptly describes the first of the three pieces Op 20 for violin and piano, a Mélodie whose smiling phrases are accompanied by a flirtatious piano part. The Pièce dans la style ancien is an attractive, breezy rigaudon, whilst the final Barcarolle is no languid nocturnal piece but a carefree serenade that sways along full of joi-de-vivre. The individual works that close the disc have all appeared on previous volumes in other guises. Thus we have had Op 15 No 2 and Op 26 No 2 played by viola (AP0401), cello (AP0418) and oboe (AP0445) and there are similar combinations for the other works. Again the story is of small scale pieces with a generous abundance of charm and melody.

The performers play this music for all it's worth and, while it perhaps a little closely recorded there is plenty of warmth and richness to the sound. It is unfortunate that the cello is perhaps a shade recessed; I would have liked to hear it a little more equally. The glossy booklet is, as usual, in Polish, French and English and gives a short biographical sketch of the composer; it is written by the sympathetic pianist on this recording, Anna Mikolon. Why this music has disappeared so completely is a mystery; I could listen to it over and over and it is certain to put a smile on my face. I am glad that it came my way and I will be looking back over previous volumes.

Rob Challinor

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