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Théodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)
Quintet in F for violin, oboe, viola, cello and piano (1905) [27:13]
Meditation for violin, oboe and organ (1900) [3:28]
String Quartet No 1 in E-flat (1909) [32:31]
Meditation-Priere for oboe, strings, harp and organ, Op 17 (1869) [6:11]
Petits reves d’enfants for string quartet (1903) [3:57]
Deux pieces en forme canonique for oboe, cello and strings (1901) [5:21]
Lajos Lencses (oboe)
Gustavo Surgik (violin), Leo Lencses (cello)
Carole Dubois (piano), Antal Varadi (organ), Renie Yamahata (harp)
Quatuor Parisii
Budapest Strings
rec. 2010-20, Kammermusik Studio, SWR, Stuttgart, and Christus Konig Kirche, Fellbach Oeffingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

Théodore Dubois has been overshadowed as a composer by his contemporaries: Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Bizet, Massenet, Fauré and so on. A noted organist, he served at Rheims Cathedral and then at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he succeeded César Franck at the basilica church of Sainte-Clotilde. He also taught at the Conservatoire, and later became its director. He was choirmaster at the city’s Madeleine Church, and then followed in the footsteps of Saint-Saëns as its organist. Written in the French Romantic tradition, his music is sometimes considered backward-looking and often regarded as stuffily academic. The latter may be due to his having penned several daunting treatises on music theory.

A quick inspection of Dubois’s works list reveals that – besides contributing many works to the organ repertoire – he wrote in a number of genres. He was an enthusiastic composer of nine operas and two ballets. His orchestral works include symphonies, cantatas and sacred choral works, among them oratorios and masses. Notable in chamber music are the Decet (Dixtuor) for string and wind quintets and the Nonet (Nonetto) for woodwinds and strings; neither appears on this disc. The album contains six chamber works composed over forty years, two substantial and four shorter pieces. The oboe appears in four of them. The String Quartet and Petits rêves d'enfant were previously released in 2013 on the SWR Digital label.

The earliest work here, and my particular favourite, is the 1869 Méditation-Prière Op 17. There are two versions: for violin, organ and either harp or piano; and for oboe, string quintet, harp and organ, previously unrecorded and performed here. At just over six minutes, this is a satisfyingly played lyrical work (meditative, as the title says) with the main theme repeated four times. It could easily serve as an interlude for an opera in the manner of, say, Mascagni’s Intermezzo from his opera Cavalleria rusticana.

Some thirty years later, Dubois wrote a short Méditation for violin, oboe and organ. The dedication on the score is ‘à Madame Paul Soubrier’, Marguerite Grillon des Chapelles. At three and a half minutes, the playing emphasises the compassionate qualities of the piece.

The year 1901 brings the modest-length Deux pièces en forme canonique, scored for oboe, cello and strings. The Deux pièces were introduced at the Concerts Colonne in Paris. With a lovely oboe line, the beautifully played Adagio molto espressivo is undemanding in mood, warm and comfortable. A similar temperament appears in Allegretto grazioso, although the strings seem a touch more prominent. Compared to the oboe part in both pieces, the cello seems a little too recessed in the sound picture.

This is the first recording of the 1903 Petits rêves d'enfant (Little childhood dreams) a four-minute work for string quartet which the booklet essay refers to as simple in form. The two movements have separate themes and different complexion. A very gentle Andantino with the temperament of a lamentation. Andantino grazioso evokes a child’s warm and compassionate environment.

The four-movement Quintet in F major written in 1905 is scored for violin, oboe (rather than the usual second violin), viola, cello and piano. Dubois’s fellow professors at the Conservatoire de Paris – Lefort, Gillet, Laforge, Loëb and Diémer – introduced the Quintet that year at a Lefort Concert to much praise. Warm and congenial, it has the fresh feel of a student work rather than the product of a seventy-year-old. Not surprisingly, the oboe and the piano are noticeably prominent against the strings, a scoring design that works very well. The affectionate and soothing third movement Adagio non troppo could easily reflect the comforting glow of a love affair. The exuberant Allegro con fuoco finale with its proud and rather showy disposition has real appeal, and the players seem fully committed.

The String Quartet No 1 in E-flat major, premiered in 1909 by Parent, Loiseau, Brun and Fournier, gets its first recording here. The four-movement score is denser than the Quintet, and has a singular, more mature feel. I especially like the invigorating second movement Allegro animato e molto leggiero for its wealth of spirited activity. The pleasant, uplifting finale Allegro vivo - Larghetto - Allegro vivo is boisterous and highly rhythmic, contrasting sharply with the doleful Larghetto section. (A slight noise in the finale at around 3:50-4:35 is likely caused by one of the players.)

Oboist Lajos Lencsés’s praiseworthy playing has notable facility in the four works for his instrument, even if in 2020 he was in his late seventies. The Budapest Strings play the Méditation-Prière and Deux pièces with integrity and fine ensemble work. Quatuor Parisii, founded by Conservatoire de Paris students in 1981, gives adept and pleasing contributions.

The sound quality is acceptable although not entirely consistent. William Melton’s booklet essay provides helpful information on each work. These interesting and approachable chamber works from the pen of Théodore Dubois should mainly appeal to those who like to explore the highways and byways of French chamber music.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Marc Rochester

The label has corrected a problem with the sound in the first pressing, sent out for review but not released for sale.

1-4. Quintet in F major for violin, oboe, viola, cello and piano (1905) [27:13]
Arnaud Vallin (violin), Lajos Lencsés (oboe), Dominique Lobet (viola), Jean-Philippe Martignoni (cello), Carole Dubois (piano)

5. Méditation for violin, oboe and organ (1900) [3:28]
Lajos Lencsés (oboe), Gustavo Surgik (violin), Antál Váradi (organ)

6-9. String Quartet No 1 in E-flat major (1909) [32:31]
Quatuor Parisii

10. Méditation-Prière for oboe, strings, harp and organ, Op 17 (1869) [6:11]
Lajos Lencsés (oboe), Renie Yamahata (harp), Antál Váradi (organ), Budapest Strings (chamber orchestra)

11-12. Petits rêves d'enfant for string quartet (1903) [3:57]
Quatuor Parisii

13-14. Deux pièces en forme canonique for oboe, cello and strings (1901) [5:21]
Lajos Lencsés (oboe), Leo Lencsés (cello), Budapest Strings (chamber orchestra)

Quatuor Parisii: Arnaud Vallin (violin), Doriane Gable (violin), Dominique Lobet (viola), Jean-Philippe Martignoni (cello)

Recording data
October 2010, Kammermusikstudio, Südwestrundfunk (SWR), Stuttgart, Germany (Quintet, String Quartet No 1 & Petits rêves d'enfant)

July 2020, Kammermusik Studio, Südwestrundfunk (SWR), Stuttgart, Germany (Méditation-Prière & Deux pieces)

July 2020, Christus König Kirche, Fellbach, Oeffingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany (Méditation)

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