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Great review in Music Web International

April 25, 2024

Rob Challinor

Wonderful playing, emotional depth and imagination in this beautiful music [RCh]

Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952)
Sonata for cello and piano in A minor (1919)
Dora Pejačević (1885-1923)
Sonata for cello and piano Op.35 in E minor (1913)
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)
Nocturne (1911)
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)
Trois Pièces (1914)
Janne Fredens (cello), Søren Rastogi (piano)
rec. 2023, Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark
OUR Recordings 6220683 SACD [61]
A quick look at the dates of the works on this disc, 1911 to 1919 shows how apt Upheaval is for a title; such a simple word for the cataclysmic events that unfolded in the twentieth century’s second decade. In a contemporary sense it might be seen as a, so far, minor upheaval in the status quo of male dominated western music. Female composers have always fought for recognition but it seems that in recordings and perhaps to a certain extent on the concert platform a new appraisal is being made; in the last two years my collection has grown by twenty discs devoted to female composers with many more featuring at least one piece. Not exactly a tsunami but if it brings more works to the fore of the quality of the music on this disc I am all ready for some upheaval.
The earliest work here is the nocturne from the two pieces for violin or flute by Lili Boulanger, arranged for cello and piano by Janne Fredens though the booklet only mentions its flute incarnation. Boulanger’s gifts were immense but chronic illness from the age of six brought limitations; she collapsed during her first attempt at the Prix de Rome though she went on to triumph the following year. Indeed there are a steady stream of compositions almost right up until her death in March 1918; toward the end her illness made it hard to physically put pen to paper. The pièce courte, called nocturne by its publisher is achingly beautiful with its gently rocking accompaniment, long floating melody in the cello and subtle impressionism. The instrument’s timbre is perfect, especially for the soaring line in the middle section. Her sister Nadia’s influence as a teacher and mentor spread widely, ranging from the likes of Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland to Michel Legrand and Quincy Jones. The first two of her three pieces for cello and piano were based on earlier works and the set came together in 1914. The first is mostly lullaby like with a reflective melody over a gently rippling accompaniment of alternating notes; its dramatic outburst is short-lived. The canonic second sounds somewhat folk-like and the third is highly energetic, something of a Cossack dance though its five-four interlude would doubtless throw the dancers out of step.
Dora Pejačević’s cello sonata in E minor opens with a movement whose lyricism and autumnal mood is reminiscent of Dvořák. It has its share of passion but the tenderly melodic style is seldom ruffled by darker moments. The scherzo is a marvel of impish good humour even in its minor key and the feel of the opening movement is reflected in the extended central section. Melancholy hovers over the beautiful adagio sostenuto. It opens with a rich chordal melody for the piano accompanied by a halting syncopated left hand, a melody that is taken over by the cello in an elegiac duet with the piano. The finale continues the interplay though in a much more contented state of mind. Elegance is the watchword in this mostly restrained and flowing triple time dance that saves its grand gestures for the final few bars.
Henriëtte Bosmans was of that unfortunate generation that lived through both world wars and whose homeland’s close proximity meant suffering under Nazi occupation. She made a decent career as a pianist and studied composition under Jan Willem Kersbergen and Willem Pijper. The cello sonata dates from before her time with Pijper and appeared after the first world war. When I first put this CD on the emotional power of the first movement opening blew my socks off! The cello cries out against the piano’s tolling bass notes and chords that seem to be searching for a harmonic home for all their tonal nature. There is a yearning quality to the music with its constant shifting of harmonic centre and whole tone accompaniment to the second theme. Fauré is echoed in the flowing second movement with some delicious figuration in the piano part and there is a restlessness to the short adagio with the piano’s repeated chords and the cello’s sustained melody; the interplay as the movement progresses shows just how closely integrated the cello and piano are. The finale follows without a break, a driven and intense dance in quintuple time that ramps up the tension even more, eventually returning to the remorseless opening of the whole sonata. Both instruments get a full workout here but it is clear from the distinctive piano writing that Bosmans was an exceptional pianist.
I am hugely impressed with the husband and wife team of cellist Janne Fredens and pianist Søren Rastogi who bring the music to fizzing, fiery life. They bring balance, temperament, engagement, supreme virtuosity and passion by the bucket load and the disc will easily feature in my recordings of the year. An absolute corker of a recital.
Rob Challinor

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