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Great Gramophone review

January 29, 2024

Peter J Rabinowitz

Less than a decade ago, Croatian composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) was such an unknown that Jeremy Nicholas could begin a review with the sentence, ‘No, I hadn’t either’ (7/15). Now the landscape has shifted (most notably by Oramo’s recording of her Symphony – Chandos, 6/22) and we find ourselves facing what’s at least the third recording of her Cello Sonata.
It’s a work well worth the attention. Composed in 1913, it favours an idiom you might call exploratory late Romanticism, more in line with Brahms than with Schoenberg (check out the soaring first theme) but drawing out the progressive potentials of her chosen conventions and starting to look ahead to the more radical voice of her magisterial Second Piano Sonata. Harmonically, the Cello Sonata may stay within the bounds of tonality but it moves in unexpected directions (sometimes in a bittersweet way that may remind you of late Strauss); emotionally, its range is far from Mahlerian but its expressivity often haunts you, especially in the mournful 5/4 Adagio sostenuto. The performance by Janne Fredens and Søren Rastogi, darkly coloured and assertive in spirit, serves as a revealing alternative to the more brightly coloured and light-fingered recording by Christian Poltéra and Oliver Triendl. Both make stronger impressions than does the unsteady reading by Israel Fausto and Carmen Martínez Pierret.
The Cello Sonata by Pejačević’s contemporary Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) – a Dutch composer similarly ignored until recently, and similarly enjoying increased notice – makes an ideal complement. Composed in 1919, it’s a troubling work, with a first movement launched by a threatening tolling bass, a claustrophobic second movement that gnaws on small details, a concentrated Adagio and a driving finale, with something of the grim obsession we hear in late Liszt. It’s clearly shadowed by memories of the First World War – and it chillingly portends the difficulties that Bosmans, bisexual and partly Jewish, faced during the years under the Nazis. The intensity of the performers pays even higher dividends here than in the Pejačević. By comparison, the Rademarkers/Verschoor duo (Quintone, 10/08) sound slightly weak-willed.
In this context, the short pieces by Lili and Nadia Boulanger seem like chestnuts – but they’re exquisite chestnuts, compellingly presented. The engineering, especially as heard on the SACD surround tracks, is first-rate. Strongly recommended. Peter J Rabinowitz, February issue

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