1914 Music for Strings and Piano = KOECHLIN: Violin Sonata; VIERNE: Preludes for Piano; Quintet for piano and string quartet — Tamara Atschba, piano/ Louise Chisson, v./ Matthias Adensamer, v./ Alexander Znamensky, viola/ Christophe Pantillon, cello – Gramola 99040, 88:27 (9/9/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The music on this exceptionally lengthy disc is from composers who wrote music during World War I and escaped the carnage. It was produced by the French Cultural Institute of Vienna in memory of those composers who perished during that war and to remember that generation’s music that has been forgotten.
Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) was a composer, writer and critic—and a student of Gabriel Faure. He was the teacher of Poulenc and Tailleferre, and influenced Milhaud and composers associated with Satie. He also was a man of the world—his passions included stereoscopic photography, film stars (Ginger Rogers), medieval music, socialism and the Jungle Book of Rudyard Kipling (on which he wrote three orchestral songs titled Livre de la jungle). His diverse musical style mirrored his personality: baroque, impressionism, Hollywood film scores (Seven Stars Symphony) and even parodying twelve-tone technique in the Jungle Book. The Violin Sonata (1915-16) was dedicated to Faure, but the style is impressionistic and programmatic. The unusual first movement is titled ‘calm, radiant and fairy-like.’ There’s a sense of luminescent fantasy that is appealing. It would be a wonderful musical nightcap. The scherzo leads us through a ‘mythenshrouded forest’ and the andante is a fairy-like nocturne. This is a contemplative and very beautiful sonata, gorgeously performed by Louise Chisson and Tamara Atschba.
Louis Vierne (1870-1937) is remembered as an organ composer and who played the organ at the Cathedral of Notre Dame for 37 years, but who died while playing his 1750th performance on June 2, 1937. His pupil, the renowned composer and organist, Maurice Durufle, was at his side. To say that his life was difficult is an understatement: he was born blind, his wife left him (as two subsequent female companions did), one son died from tuberculosis and the other one died on the battlefield in World War I. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, inhaled ether, used tranquilizers and sleeping pills. No wonder he was often sad and depressed. But the Twelve Preludes for Piano, op. 36, shows no sign of this life. Although influenced by Debussy, they sound Chopinesque, and are more Romantic than impressionistic. Atschba plays them with style and depth of feeling.
Vierne’s Quintet for Piano and String Quartet (1917-18) is dedicated to his son Jacques, who was killed in the Great War at the tender age of 17. Vierne had reason to be angry: his son had volunteered to fight at the front, had recoiled at the horrors he saw, and been executed as an example to other soldiers. Of course, he was reported to have been ‘killed in action.’ The first movement expresses the deep sadness at the loss of his son, with a tender cello melody and, for Vierne, a venturesome chromaticism that musically reflects his distress. Although the form is reminiscent of Franck’s well known Piano Quintet, the mood is darker. Even more expressive is the music in the larghetto: mournful loss of love interspersed with moments of angry despondency. In a letter about the work, the composer states that the last movement is a musical outcry against the futility and horror of war: aggressive violins slash; piano chords rail and finally a reluctant and dissonant melody emerges, and, like his life, ends suddenly and with a final exclamation.
Resplendently recorded and engagingly performed, this disc contains music that is reflective and deeply felt. It’s a beautiful remembrance of those lost in World War I.