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Great 5 stars review in Fanfare (US)

November 26, 2023

Colin Clarke

UPHEAVAL  Janne Fredens (vc); Søren Rastogi (pn)  OUR SACD 6.220683 (60:53)
BOSMANS Cello Sonata in a. PEJAČEVIĆ Cello Sonata in e, op. 35. L. BOULANGER Nocturne. N. BOULANGER Trois Pièces.
Four fascinating works for cello and piano by female composers here; and the two sonatas appear on the same album for the first time.
Daughter of Henri Bosmans (Principal Cello of the Concertgebouw Orchestra , Henriette Bosmans was taught by, among others, Cornelius Dopper and Willem Pijper. Her mother was a fine pianist in her own right, teaching at the Amsterdam Conservatory.
The Bosmans Sonata for Cello and Piano was written in 1919. Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) was a Dutch composer whose compositional trajectory was cruelly interrupted by the Nazi occupation of her home territory. The music is darkly passionate; when it explodes out, the effect is ferocious. And Fredens and Rastogi are indeed passionate. The two parts, cello and piano are very much equal in voice and in difficulty. One can always hear influences, and for me it is César Franck here. Rastogi plays on a warm-toned Bechstein that is ideal for this warm-hearted music. The Allegretto is Romantic; clouds scud across its horizon, with shafts of sunlight occasionally peeping through. It is a truly lovely piece, and Fredens and Rastogi are its finest advocates: they find just the right amount of pull-back approaching cadences, yet the sense of easy flow remains. The Adagio is very French in sound, heady and a sort of mystical Fauré. Worth noting Fredens’ bow control here, so steady and allowing the melodies to truly shine. When cello and piano treble join in song, the result is magic, and Rastogi himself has a fine sense of cantabile. This is balanced out by the almost frenetic opening to the finale (settling into a dance). Fredens’ pizzicatos are generously toned, but not half as much as her long, legato lines (aided in their success by her true tuning). This finale is no throw-away conclusion but a finely structured edifice in its own right that traverses a multitude of textures and textural terrains.
The recording is stunning. It allows every nuance to shine; not to mention replicating the deep sonority of Fredens’ lowest string to resonate on a most powerful level.
In his review of a Quintone release of the Bosmans Cello Sonata (coupled with some works by Frank Bridge), Lynn René Bayley is majorly disparaging about this piece, allowing only that the Adagio is “quite lovely” (Fanfare 35:6, performers Mayke Rademakers and Matthijs Verschor)). Bertil van Boer was more positive about the piece when reviewing a performance by Karie Raitiinen and Bengt Forsberg on Arcantus (47:1). Leah Plave and Dan Sato, on an all-Bosmans disc entitled Impressions: The Rediscovery of Henriëtte Bosmans, are too soft edged in the first movement (a release seemingly only available via Spotify). Their performance is too much on one level; the music feels ironed-out in comparison with Fredens and Rastogi. Interested listeners who wish to explore more about Bosmans should maybe had over to Toccata Classics and a disc entitled Early Chamber Music by the Solarek Piano Trio: The Violin Sonata and the Piano Trio presented there would nicely flesh out OUR’s ??Cello Sonata (reviewed in Fanfare 46:3 by Jerry Dubins).
The music of Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) has gained a lot of traction in recent years, with major releases especially on the Chandos and cpo labels. In the concert hall, my most recent experience of her music was the Overture, op. 49 (1919), performed at the 2023 Proms by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Jaime Martín (it preceded an equally rare performance of Grace William’ Violin Concerto with the excellent Geneva Lewis). Her Cello Sonata ushers in quite the contrast to the Bosmans. The music here is ever lyrical. An undercurrent of calm is omnipresent. Fredens plays with a never-ending bow, sustained by the fluent pianism of Rastogi (who notably spreads chords without interrupting the melodic flow). The first movement ends on a screamingly high note for cello: here, the result is exultant. The Scherzo is wonderful. Fredens and Rastogi take this at a flying Allegro (the music could arguably take a Prestissimo, but that’s not what the composer wrote!). The contrasting Trio is broad, a cello Lied ohne Worte, a place of maximal tranquility. A false hint at a transition back to the Allegro is a nice touch. The Adagio sostenuto opens like the lost slow movement from a Schubert Piano Sonata: piano-only, desolate, wintry. Over its slow footsteps, the cello laments in a melody that can only be described as heart-rendingly beautiful. Few recorded performances almost reduce me to tears: this is one of them. The piano writing is late-Romantic, complex and stunningly played by Rastogi. One of those moments when one says to oneself, “I knew this composer was good, but not this good”. Finally, an Allegro comodo that is ushered in like a breath of country air. The music has to flow. Every little accent is attended to by the OUR duo; more importantly, the music breathes as if played by woodwind players. And Pejačević’s swells emerge as entirely natural.
Competition here comes principally from a 2011 cpo disc coupling the Cello Sonata with Pejačević’s C-Minor Piano Trio, op. 29. The cellist there is Christian Poltéra and the pianist Oliver Triendl. This has not been reviewed on the Fanfare Archive but is a fine performance; here, the performances are more even in quality and it will be largely couplings that determine choice. Poltéra has a fine sound, warm and generous; Fredens’ tone is less filled-out, but more flexible. Arguably, the cpo performance is closer to the prescribed Allegro marking, but their energy is less, and the Trio is too indulgent; it simply drags its feet; for the Adagio, honors are more evenly divided, although OUR’s recording is deeper, truer to the piano and so clinched the laurels once more and the Fredens/Rastogi account just penetrates deeper. The finale finds Poltéra and Triendl in almost playful form, but they do not quite align themselves to Peyacević’s score as do Fredens and Rastogi. The final preference goes to OUR over cpo, just, but ultimately, I would not like to be without either.
At nearly half an hour, the Pejačević is the meat of the recital, with Bosman’s 21-minute Sonata acing as a near-makeweight. The remaining two pieces are slighter in duration, and in material. Not a criticism, as they were never intended to enter the heavyweight arena. A nice, touch, too, to offer one piece by Lili and one piece by Nadia Boulanger. This particular mini-Boulangerie (sorry) begins with Lili’s Nocturne (1911, the first of a set of two pieees, the second being a “Cortège”). This is more often heard on violin and is infinitely touching (and is that a reference to Debussy’s faun I hear in there?). While luminaries such as Janine Jansen and Alina Ibragimova might be de rigeur, might I direct you to the violin version by Olivier Charlier and the brilliant and massively under-rated pianist Émile Naoumoff on Marco Polo?. It might be hard to find, but so worth it, a performance of ultimate sensitivity to complement Fredens and Rastogi’s more mellow achievement. One might argue that Charlier and Naoumoff sing of a spring evening; Fredens and Rastogi yearn for one. Both will enhance your life.
Finally, Nadia Boulabger’s Trois Pièces, for cello and piano date from 1914. The first two of these began as early organ pieces; the third and final is original and harbors a Spanish tinge. There is fierce competition here, but as Fredens and Rastogi play, it I as if they all disappear. Fredens/Rastogi invite in a somewhat archaic slant to the second piece to fine effect; the fist is decidedly Impressionistic, particularly in its piano writing, while the third is much spikier. Great to hear such definition in the cello down low and at speed. The piece is difficult technically (no problem here) and also interpretatively in its various twists and turns. Again, Fredens and Rastogi as maximally convincing. Both recording and performance are way ahead of Sophie Kauer and Kunal Lahiry on DG in this finale. As to the whole set, it might be worthwhile flagging up a performance among the many that might well go under the radar: a Naxos competition winner’s disc of Nicolas Altstaedt (winner of the Adam International Cello Competition in New Zealand, 2006) with pianist José Gallardo, a performance of perfumed, whispered mysteries blasted out of existence by their bracing finale. Couplings of d’Indy and Pierné make for a most recommendable issue, ultimately ceding to Fredens and Rastogi only because of OUR’s superior recording quality. But perhaps “ceding” is not the right word, as the two performances complement each other so well.
Quite a journey, then, offered by Fredens and Rastogi through these four wonderful composers. As a recital, this disc has few peers recently, both for integrity of thought and intensity of utterance. Superb booklet notes by Joshua Cheek are the cherry on top of this sumptuous cake. Colin Clarke

Five stars: As a recital, this disc has few peers recently, both for integrity of thought and intensity of utterance

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