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Third great 5 stars review in Fanfare

December 1, 2023

Peter Burwasser

UPHEAVAL • Janne Fredens (vc); Søren Rastogi (pn) • OUR 6.220683 (60:53)

BOSMANS Sonata for cello and piano in a PEJAČEVIĆ Sonata for cello and piano in e L. BOULANGER Nocturne N. BOULANGER Trois pieces

The title of this excellent collection of music by female composers for cello and piano, “Upheaval,” suggests two themes. First, all of the music was written between the years 1911 and 1919, an historical period of upheaval in virtually every field of human endeavor, for better and for worse. The term also refers specifically to the nascent years of women being taken seriously as composers, which is not to say that there were no female composers before, but that they almost always had to struggle past many barriers to achieve any chance of an actual musical career. But while the music presented here is lovely and beautifully played, the concept of the album falls short in some ways. The main sticking point is that all four composers wrote in a style that looked backward instead of forward. This is not a criticism of the music, merely an observation that a post Brahms/Faure harmonic language hardly represents artistic upheaval in the early twentieth century. Regarding the valiant and even stubborn struggle to open the world of composition to women, it is appropriate to admire these four artists, but also bemoan the reality that it took at least another generation for the fruits of their labor to become a reality. Fortunately, sexism in the realm of musical composition today is all but dead.
On to the music itself. The work of Henriëtte Bosmans and Countess Dora Pejačevic of Croatia is new to me, but of course I am not alone. The Bosmans sonata is dark and lyrical, opening with a shuddering low bass line for the cello. It sounds strongly influenced by the cello sonatas of Brahms, without being imitative. The Classical construction of the work is taut and alert. Pejačevic’s music is similarly imbued by a late nineteenth century feel, but is larger in both actual length and artistic ambition. Like the Bosmans sonata, it is in a minor key, but Pejačevic is more emotionally diverse. Brahms casts a shadow here as well, but Pejačevic’s voice is also imbued by her Slavic culture. This is a superb work for cello and piano, quite worthy of a revival. It certainly piques my interest in hearing more of her work (there is a retrospective on the CPO label). Apparently, she was quite prolific, although she was only 38 years old when she died from complications after childbirth. Even shorter lived was Lili Boulanger, a child prodigy who won the Grand Prix de Rome at the age of 19, the first woman to do so, but she succumbed to her lifelong poor health at the age of 24. The short Nocturne played here is typical of her output; supremely elegant and distinguished by original melodic content. Her older sister, Nadia, was obviously of much sturdier stock; she lived to be 92. Of course, Nadia Boulanger is, by a mile, the most famous of the four composers here, widely acknowledged as one of the great pedagogues of the twentieth century, as well as a fine composer and performer in her own right. She is represented here by three short works, including one that (if my schoolboy French is accurate) is, aptly, titled “quick and nervously rhythmic.” Peter Burwasser

5 Stars: Four excellent and little-known works by female composers working in the early twentieth century.

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