Notes and Editorial Reviews
ROPARTZ Violin Sonata No. 2. Sonatine for Flute. Cello Sonata No. 2 • Nicolas Dautricourt (vn); Juliette Hurel (fl); Raphaël Pidoux (vc); François Kerdoncuff (pn) • TIMPANI 1214 (70:13)
With this release, Timpani continues its most welcome promotion of the music of the estimable Joseph-Guy Ropartz, with world premiere recordings of three of his sonatas. Cast in four movements, the Violin Sonata No. 2, completed in 1918, immediately shows the composer’s aesthetic descent from César Franck and kinship to
Gabriel Fauré. The first movement (Modérément vite) opens with a lighthearted skipping theme, which is later contrasted with a more lyrical and ardent but no less sunny one. The following scherzo (Vif) takes the skipping motif to the level of an energetic romp, one punctuated with a good deal of syncopation. If the succeeding slow movement (Lent) shows at moments that Ropartz was not completely oblivious to Debussy, it also suggests a firm decision not to go further than a nodding acquaintance, as a long-breathed, quietly lyrical opening gives way to a somewhat agitated middle section before subsiding back to ruminations on the original material. The finale (Animé) once again opens a movement with an ascending, rhythmically skipping theme, but one that is now somewhat more hesitant and questioning, as if chastened by the preceding slow meditative interlude. A contrasting lyrical second subject, decidedly pensive in character, continues this almost melancholic vein briefly, before the work cycles back in true Franckian fashion to the more bouncy, chipper music of the first movement, with briefly recycled references to the other thematic materials along the way.
The sonatine for flute dates from 1930 and is dedicated to flutist René Le Roy, a pupil of Philippe Gaubert. Timing in at slightly less than 15 minutes, compared to a bit over 30 for the violin sonata, it is a three-movement work (Très modéré—Très lent—Assez vif), also structured in a cyclic pattern. A model of elegant compression of resources, the work begins with a relaxed opening that has the feel of a brief stopover at an outdoor garden bench on a genial summer day, segues gently from there into a coolly liquid middle movement, and then suddenly pirouettes into a finale with an angular hopping theme of decidedly Ravelian character.
The Cello Sonata No. 2 from 1918–19, likewise cast in a three-movement cyclic pattern, is darker in character. The opening movement (Lent—Ardent) lives up to its name, with a long-limbed theme of tender yearning underlain by an agitated, rippling piano accompaniment, which gives way in due course to different but similarly long-spun melodic lines that perpetuate an air of perplexed uncertainty. The following slow movement (Lent et calme) generally extends this sense of indecisiveness, albeit in a slightly more hopeful vein. The finale (Trés lent—Assez animè), though indeed more animated, does not provide any sense of resolution. It is as if Ropartz had chosen to respond to the carnage of the Great War not with some profound sense of tragedy and bereavement, but rather with a quizzical and guarded look forward to a now very unsettled future. I confess that I enjoyed this piece somewhat less than its companions on this disc, as I found its thematic material less appealing and far more difficult to follow.
All three pieces receive fine if not absolutely ideal performances. Violinist Nicholas Dautricourt has the almost piercingly bright and slightly acidulous tone common to many French violinists; he is an expressive performer, but an occasional high note of his grates on the ear. Cellist Raphaël Pidoux is sometimes a bit rough in tone and not always dead-centered in intonation, but he is clearly a committed advocate. Regarding flutist Juliette Hurel I have no caveats; her limpid, sinuous tones and ability to sustain long-breathed lines make her an ideal protagonist. Pianist François Kerdoncuff provides discreet and sympathetic support to all three soloists, to which Timpani adds clear recorded sound that is not too closely miked and booklet notes with detailed technical musical analysis. This is a most welcome addition to the Ropartz discography, and I for one will look forward to planned successive releases that I hope will serve to restore the music of this unjustly neglected composer to the active repertoire; definitely recommended.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
My introduction to Ropartz came last year when a friend played me his Symphony No. 2; I was impressed. Where had this composer been all my life? Since then I’ve explored the other four symphonies and the six string quartets. This is all thanks to the enterprising French Label Timpani who are issuing, at a fairly constant rate, the works of this relatively unknown composer – one of France’s best kept secrets. A website dedicated to his music is here. This latest release, titled ‘Volume 1’, explores three sonatas - for violin, flute and cello, each with piano.
Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864-1955) lived a long life into his nineties. Hailing from Northern France, he was born in Guingamp, Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany, into a wealthy family. He studied under the composers Theodore Dubois (harmony) and Jules Massenet (composition) at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he became friends with the Romanian composer Georges Enesco. He later studied the organ with César Franck. In 1894 he was to travel to Nancy in the east of France, where he would remain as the director of the Conservatory there for the next twenty-five years. This was followed by a ten year stint (1919-29) in a similar position in Strasbourg. Retiring in 1929, he went on composing until 1953, when he was struck down with blindness. He died two years later.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 was completed in 1918 when Ropartz was living in Nancy. A large-scale work, over thirty-two minutes in length, it has echoes of the Breton heathland throughout, a reminder of the composer’s origins and roots. This open-air atmosphere permeates the first movement. Beautiful expressive melody and pastoral romanticism characterize this upbeat opening. It is followed by a relatively short extrovert ‘Vif’ or Scherzo.
The mood changes in the slow movement, which is melancholic and somewhat pensive. It reflects the external circumstances contemporary with the completion of the work – the bombardment of Nancy with the loss of 120 lives. An exuberant finale follows, which assuages the situation.
The application of cyclical principles is evident in this work, most likely an influence of Franck. In effect it is a two-movement piece or ‘diptych’; movements one and two are linked without a break, and similarly movements three and four. Unity is also established in that the Scherzo derives from the opening theme of the first movement, and the finale takes its main theme from the ‘Lent’. Throughout the work, the piano takes on an equal role with the violin.
Eschewing the lush romanticism of the violin sonata, the Flute Sonata is very much later Ropartz, composed in 1930. It is on a much smaller scale and shows a more advanced compositional style. It was dedicated to the eminent flautist René Le Roy (1898-1985). Again cyclical elements pervade, linking the movements thematically. The dances of the finale, deriving from the habañera and cha-cha, find their origins in the previous movements. The whole canvas is sparsely textured, characterized by luminosity, simplicity and refinement. In the finale, the flute imitates birdsong to outstanding effect.
Dating from around the time of the Violin Sonata, the Cello Sonata was published a year later in 1919. Again smaller scaled like the flute sonata, romantic, exuberant lyricism is an underlying feature. The slow movement is tinged with sadness and nostalgia. It is a meditative and meandering song, dark and world-weary. In the finale Ropartz revisits his roots with a dance from Breton folklore. The work ends on a positive note with joy and happiness.
The sound quality of the CD is second to none, with ideal balance achieved between the soloists and piano. Each of the three instrumentalists gives a deeply committed performance, and the pianist, François Kerdoncuff, provides sterling support. The warm acoustic of both venues allows all the detail to register. With comprehensive booklet notes and detailed analysis of the music, this all adds up to a very desirable release. I eagerly await volume 2.
- Stephen Greenbank, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Sonatine for Flute and Piano by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Juliette Hurel (Flute),
François Kerdoncuff (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930; France
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