Notes and Editorial Reviews
Maurice Emmanuel (1862-1938) is a composer of great originality and importance, and more to the point, great quality. A noted musicologist, expert on the music of ancient Greece, teacher of Dutilleux and Messiaen (among others), he composed approximately 75 works but destroyed (or disowned) all but thirty. Needless to say, we badly need to recover the ones he dumped on the basis of the ones we have, because what did he know? In any case, what remains is marvelous, and anything but “academic.”
The six sonatinas are all that we have of Emmanuel’s music for solo piano, but they contain, in about an hour, an entire universe of inspiration and offer a singularly well-rounded portrait of the
composer. There are works inspired by folk music (No. 1 “Bourguignonne”), by nature (No. 2 “Pastorale,” based on the bird calls in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony), by Hindu modes (No. 4), and by French baroque dances (No. 5). Indeed, if you played Nos. 2 and 5 simultaneously you’d probably get Messiaen.
Emmanuel’s music runs the gamut from the disarming simplicity at the start of No. 1 to the gorgeous lyricism of No. 2 to the experimental harmonies of the Hindu modes in No. 5. All the while there’s a firmness to the rhythm, a pungency to the harmony, a leanness of sonority, and a clarity and brevity that’s very much the composer’s own. There’s not a note out of place anywhere, and pianist Laurent Wagschal understand this distinctive idiom and projects it with unaffected ease.
Make no mistake, while often not technically demanding this is not, expressively speaking, “easy” music–it covers a wide ranging of feeling in a very condensed space, and it’s these often abrupt changes of texture and mood that Wagschal captures so well, and in excellent sound too. The pianist also appears on an accompanying DVD documentary featuring the composer’s granddaughter as well as interviews with Henri Dutilleux and pianist Laurent Martin. I don’t usually care about such things, but this production really is interesting, tasteful, and informative. You need to hear (and see) this.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
How has it come to pass that such an interesting and original composer as Maurice Emmanuel (1862-1938) has been virtually forgotten? Could it be that he was too self-critical when he destroyed all but 30 of the 73 works he composed between 1877 and the year of his death? Could it be his constant searching for new models on which to base his music—everything from French folk songs and ancient Greek dances to birdsongs and Gregorian chant inspired him in his constant experimentation—distanced it from the listeners of his age? The Sonatinas presented here not only span virtually his entire mature composing career—the first from 1893 to the sixth in 1925—but they also detail his various interests and show how each was filtered through a quite individual mind. What is so fascinating about them is that they are often difficult to date, so intriguing a concept was there behind each example and so mature a composer was he when he wrote the very first of them. Incredibly, though these works may be on the shorter side (ranging from about 8:30 to roughly 13:30) they are hardly “sonatinas” in that oft-used derogatory sense. They are genuinely fascinating and at their best moments mesmerizing. They are musically complex yet easy on the ears: perhaps the most difficult yet rewarding combination to which a composer can aspire.
The pianist Laurent Wagschal, known as a promoter of rare and neglected music, particularly French music, makes a very fine guide to these rather difficult works. Indeed the term sonatina does no justice to even the technical difficulties which the pianist must eventually overcome and master. His fingerwork throughout is pristine, the varying rhythms tightly controlled and his tonal shadings beautifully achieved—perhaps my only complaint being his rather heavy overall sound for the lightest of passages. The French school of pianism was always known for its fleetness, its grace, its utmost transparency of sound, which in these recordings I do miss every once in a while. But perhaps more importantly one hears the pianist’s obvious devotion to and love of this music: There can be nothing more important in a performance. The DVD included with the recording features a number of interviews with the composer’s family, friends, students, and other musicians. It also features performances of a number of works—some of the sonatina movements (even an orchestrated example!) and the
Suite sur des airs populaires grecs
—showing perfected performances and student master classes. As so much of music always seems to be how we think about it and perceive it, it is fascinating to experience the music from both perspectives. If you don’t know this music run out and grab it before it’s gone! Emmanuel’s music will be one of the most pleasant surprises of your year.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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