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Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Prélude en ré bémol (1911) [3:02]
Prélude en si (1911) [6:02]
Thème et variations (1914) [13:36]
Trois morceaux pour piano (1914) [6:34]
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
Pièce pour deux pianos (1910) [3:44]*
Petites pièces pour piano (1914) [4:14]
Morceau de concours pour le Conservatoire (1914) [1:23]*
Vers la vie nouvelle (1915) [4:15]
Mon âme (1906) [6:37]*
Johan Farjot (piano)
Karine Deshayes (mezzo-soprano: Mon âme)
rec. 2020, Le Bal Blomet, Paris
* Premiere Recordings
KLARTHE KLA124 [49:31]

This new release from the Klarthe label claims to be the first ever recording of the complete piano works of Nadia and Lili Boulanger. The music includes three unedited pieces never before published. The pianist Johan Farjot, in collaboration with the Centre Internationale Nadia et Lili Boulanger, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the National Archives, has managed to unearth a previously unknown score for two pianos by Nadia Boulanger, dated 1910 and written for a 1914 Paris Conservatoire examination. In addition there’s a vocal work titled Mon âme, a setting of a text by Albert Samain from 1906.

From their earliest years, the Boulanger sisters were both precocious and talented. Both studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Violinist Albert Spalding highlighted the contrast between the two: “…Nadia tall and brunette,…..Lili slender, blonde and fragile…”. Lili was only 24 when she died, whilst Nadia lived to the grand old age of 92.

Most of Lili’s first attempts at composition were destroyed, but in March 1911, on the same day, she completed two Preludes in D-flat major and B major, both soused in Debussian and Ravelian impressionism. In the former the melody grows tentatively and emerges enveloped in mystery and suspense. The B major is double the length, with more movement generated by the use of an oscillating accompaniment. The Theme and Variations from 1914 is a more substantial score. The theme is somber and dark and conveys a haunted feeling of portent. The variations which follow are deftly woven and reveal not only a capable hand but a free reining imagination. That same year Lili penned her Trois morceaux pour piano, but they were not published until 1919, a year after her death. Titled D’un vieux jardin, D’un jardin clair and Cortège, the first, densely textured, is suffused with melancholy, whilst the second offers more consoling elements. Cortège is buoyant and joyous, with filigree figurations.

I turn now to Nadia Boulanger. From 1914 the Petites pièces pour piano consist of three short pieces. Bookending a central lugubrious piece, the outer ones have more forward momentum. They sound salon-like, each has a cosy simplicity. From a year later we have Vers la vie nouvelle. Farjot adds to its sense of foreboding some wonderful organ-like sonorities at the beginning.

Three of Nadia’s works are here receiving their first recordings. Johan Farjot comments in the booklet that Pièce pour deux pianos has probably never been played before, let alone edited at the time of composition. Utilizing the re-recording technique and headphones, he takes on both parts and works from the manuscript. It’s a spirited affair that requires a formidable technical competency. The brief Morceau de concours pour le Conservatoire was intended as a sight-reading piece for the women’s piano class. Karine Deshayes joins Farjot for Mon âme, a setting of a poem by Albert Samain. Beautifully sung, it exudes a sensuous aroma.

It’s been pure delight to bask in these captivating scores. For me, though, Lili’s compositions have the edge in terms of imagination, ingenuity and adventurous harmonic construction. Johan Farjot’s colourful renditions show a real love and commitment to the music. The recording quality is first class and the documentation provides all one could ask for. An English text of Albert Samain’s In the Garden of the Infanta is provided in the booklet.

Stephen Greenbank

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