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Forth Great 5 Stars review in Fanfare

December 1, 2023

Henry Fogel

Collections: Instrumental
Five stars: Fine performances of music for cello and piano that is off the beaten path

UPHEAVAL  Janne Fredens (vc); Søren Rostogi (pn)  OUR 6.220683 (SACD: 60:50)
HENRIËTTE BOSEMANS Cello Sonata in a. DORIS PEJAČEVIĆ Cello Sonata in e. LILI BOULANGER Nocturne. NADIA BOULANGER Trois pieces for Cello and Piano
What a thoroughly delightful recording! Four works for cello and piano composed by women between 1911 and 1919, one Dutch, one Croatian, and two French. All their pieces are of high quality, deserving a place at somewhere in the repertoire, even if not at its center. The performances here are terrific, too. The disc’s title, Upheaval, refers both to the period around World War I when all this music was composed, and the fact that it was all composed by women.
Henriëtte Bosemans (1895–1952) was a new name to me. She was born in Amsterdam, and her father was principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. His influence on her was indirect, however, since he died when Henriëtte was six months old. Bosemans developed a major career as a pianist, but as her mother was Jewish, her ability to perform in wartime Netherlands (or in any controlled by the Nazis) was extinguished. Her mother was imprisoned, and although Bosemans with the help of others obtained her released, Boseman’s performing career was largely over by the time she died at age 56 of stomach cancer.
The Cello Sonata from 1919 demonstrates a gifted composer whose style was grounded in tradition. If you look for influences, you will find Brahms, Franck, and perhaps Fauré. However, you will not find music that is derivative or devoid of personality. The sonata’s highlight is its shortest movement, a lovely Adagio at just over three minutes. It is exquisitely delicate at first, and then richly beautiful. The sonata proceeds attacca to a brilliant, forceful Allegro moto e con fuoco that is particularly Brahmsian. The piece holds together very well, and at 21:27 it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
I and others have written in Fanfare about Dora Pejačević (1885–1923), a Croation composer who died at 38 after giving birth to her first child. The world was deprived of an important musical voice. Stylistically, Pejačević remained part of the Romantic tradition, ignoring the new trends of the Second Viennese School. While there is a hint of French Impressionism in Bosemans’s Cello Sonata, Pejačević’s is closer to the central German and East European models of Dvořák, Brahms, and Schumann. One characteristic I find in all of Pejačević’s music is a genuine melodic gift. She writes music of grace and elegance. Even where there is plenty of rhythmic energy—for instance, in the sonata’s finale—one hears a light touch that brings a smile.
If the loss of Dora Pejačević at 38 was a tragedy, there is no word to accurately describe the loss of Lili Boulanger at 24. Her exquisite Nocturne for cello and piano was composed in 1911 when she was just 18. As Joshua Cheek’s program notes indicate, the piece was originally scored for flute and piano, but actually there is some confusion which version came first. In any case, taken down to a lower register for cello and piano, Boulanger’s Nocturne constitutes a lovely miniature.
Nadia Boulanger’s Three Pieces were originally written for organ and piano before she transcribed them for cello. The first two are delicate and restrained, while the third provides a vivid contrast that shows off the virtuosity of both players—it even has an unexpected Latin feel to it.
Janne Fredens is a Danish cellist who is principal cellist of the Danish Sinfonietta. Søren Rastogi, also Danish, is both a soloist and collaborative pianist. He and Fredens are excellent in this collection. They capture the hushed beauty of the quieter music and also embrace the wild exuberance in the last of Nadia Boulanger’s Three Pieces.
The recorded sound, heard in conventional stereo, is perfectly balanced and placed just right, with the instruments far enough away that we don’t hear their extraneous workings. Everything on this program would be welcome in a recital by a major cellist. I wish the program notes had been longer—for music this unfamiliar, we need more than the brief sketches provided. But no one buys a disc for its program notes, and I recommend this release enthusiastically. Henry Fogel
Five stars: Fine performances of music for cello and piano that is off the beaten path

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