ALEXANDRE PIERRE FRANÇOIS BOËLY: Sonata in F minor for Piano Four Hands, Op. 17; Duo for Piano Four Hands, Op. 4; Quartet-Sonata for Piano Four Hands; Larghetto con moto (second version of Duo, Op. 4, second movement) – Laurent Martin and Betty Ho

by | Aug 15, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ALEXANDRE PIERRE FRANÇOIS BOËLY: Sonata in F minor for Piano Four Hands, Op. 17; Duo for Piano Four Hands, Op. 4; Quartet-Sonata for Piano Four Hands, Op. 31; Larghetto con moto (second version of Duo, Op. 4, second movement) – Laurent Martin and Betty Hovette, piano – Lidi 0103165-06 [Distr. by Albany], 63:44 ****:

French composer Alexandre P. F. Boëly (1785-1858) is the kind of composer who never deviated from his initial course though the musical world underwent a sea change in his lifetime. The same could be said of other long-lived composers, of course; even Bach was considered old-fashioned by the end of his life. And then there are fossil Romantics like Saint-Saëns and Bruch, whose works of 1920 sound as if they would have been quite up-to-date in 1880. Just so, the robust Boëly Sonata that commences this disc is the very model of high Classicism. It just happens to have been written in 1855. Romantics such as Mendelssohn and Chopin were already gone by then; Schumann would follow the next year. It was the age of Liszt and Alkan.

Boëly’s Sonata doesn’t sound a day younger than the other works on this CD, composed as much as thirty years earlier. The ebullient, alfresco-sounding Duo of 1829 reminds me of early Schubert. It’s full of Schubertian charm and unlike Schubert, doesn’t seem to go on forever. Boëly is master enough to know when to quit.

The Quartet-Sonata, as the name implies, is an arrangement for piano four hands of a string quartet Boëly wrote in 1825. Like the Sonata in F minor, it’s a vigorous work with a cascading, nonstop Rondo finale that would bring down the house in live performance. The bounding Scherzo is also a lot of fun.

Boëly’s reactionary tendencies didn’t win him many admirers. In fact, it lost him his job as organist at the Church of Saint Germaine l’Auxerrois in Paris, where the “austerity” of his playing was criticized. He went into semi-retirement and continued to teach piano, as he had throughout his professional career. But one of Boëly’s admirers, Camille Saint-Saëns, seems not only to have revered him for his organ playing but also for his dedication to Classical ideals and to the music of past masters, enthusiasms that stayed with Saint-Saëns.

Like the late music of Saint-Saëns and Bruch, Boëly’s compositions are fresh and attractive. Just put aside any prejudices you might have because all three are musical dinosaurs, and you can take great pleasure in Bruch’s Octet, Saint-Saens’ Sonata for Clarinet, or Boëly’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands.

The performances by Laurent Martin and Betty Hovette, playing on what sounds like a very grand Steinway piano, are infectious. They really keep those vigorous last movements moving but also bring color and nuance to the graceful sonata-form first movements, the gentle slow movements. The recorded sound is close up but vibrant. Bone up on your French, however; the notes to the CD are in that language alone.

I’m very glad to have made M. Boëly’s acquaintance through the good offices of Martin and Hovette.

— Lee Passarella