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8.572105 - Cello Recital: Altstaedt, Nicolas - PIERNE, G. / d'INDY, V. / BOULANGER, N. (French Cello Sonatas)
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Nicolas Altstaedt: French Cello Sonatas
Gabriel Pierné (1863–1937): Sonata in F sharp minor for cello and piano, Op. 46
Expansion, Op. 21 • Caprice, Op. 16
Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979): Trois Pièces for cello and piano
Vincent d’Indy (1851–1931): Lied for cello and piano, Op. 19
Sonata for piano and piano, Op. 84


Gabriel Pierné was born in Metz, the son of a former singer at the Paris Théâtre-Italien and his wife, who had established a music school in Metz. With the cession of Lorraine to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War, the family moved to Paris, where they established another music school. At the age of eight Gabriel was accepted by Ambroise Thomas as a pupil at the Conservatoire, studying the piano with Marmontel, the organ with César Franck, counterpoint and fugue with Durand and composition with Massenet. In 1882 he won the Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata Edith, to spend the following three years in Rome, according to the terms of the prize. In 1890 he returned to Paris, teaching at his parents’ musical school and in the same year succeeding Franck as organist at Sainte-Clothilde, a position he held until 1898. In 1903 he was appointed conductor at the Concerts Colonne, succeeding Edouard Colonne as principal conductor and director on the latter’s death in 1910, positions he held until 1934, performing and later recording major repertoire, including works by his contemporaries. He held leading positions in the musical life of Paris, notably as a member of the Comité supérieur de l’enseignement at the Conservatoire, and was appointed Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur in 1935. In 1925 he succeeded Théodore Dubois as a member of the Académie des beaux-arts.

Pierné was prolific as a composer, with works in many genres, vocal and instrumental, operas, ballets, incidental music, orchestral compositions and chamber music. His busy conducting schedule still allowed him a summer respite, spent at Ploujean in Brittany, periods that gave him time for composition. Pierné completed his single-movement Cello Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 46, in 1922 and it was published the following year by Durand, dedicated to the French cellist André Hekking. Much influenced by César Franck, Pierné makes use of cyclic form, with the melodic contours of the opening recurrent in various guises as the work proceeds. Marked Lent et avec une grande souplesse de rythme, the sonata opens with the piano in textures that must recall those of Fauré. The cello follows and offers a passage of quasi-recitative, before the piano resumes, once again to be interrupted by a Quasi recitativo passage for the unaccompanied cello. The process is repeated, leading to a rapider and more percussive section. There is a serene passage marked Calme before the piano returns with the opening material. The faster accented material, Animé, returns and both thematic elements are heard as the work comes to an end. Expansion, romance sans paroles, Op. 21, for cello and piano was written in 1888. With the tempo direction Moderato un poco appassionato, it offers music of elegance and charm. Caprice, Op. 16, written the previous year, demonstrates Pierné’s lightness of touch.

Nadia Boulanger made a particularly lasting impression as a teacher, exerting strong influence notably over a generation of American composers at the Conservatoire américain at Fountainebleau. Born in Paris, she enjoyed a brilliant career as a student at the Conservatoire, with first prizes in harmony and organ accompaniment, as well as in composition in the class of Gabriel Fauré, and taking second prize in the Prix de Rome. She wrote her last compositions in the 1920s, possibly as a result of the early death in 1918 at the age of 25 of her sister Lili, who seemed to have shown greater talent. Thereafter she turned her attention to teaching and conducting. Her Three Pieces for cello and piano were written in 1914. The first, marked Modéré, is gently meditative. The second, Sans vitesse et à l’aise, is a beautifully crafted song. With the third, Vite et nerveusement rythmé, there is an immediate change of mood. The music is now strongly rhythmic, relaxing briefly in a central section, before the wild dance resumes.

Born in 1851 into a family of ancestral distinction, Vincent d’Indy was eventually allowed to turn his attention to music, rather than follow family military tradition, as had once been his apparent intention. The death of his mother soon after his birth meant that he passed his childhood in the care of his paternal grandmother, who had been, as a pianist, a pupil of Pixis, Louis Adam and Kalkbrenner. He himself had piano lessons with Diémer and Marmontel. He took part in the defence of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War, notably in the ill-fated sortie of January 1871. In 1872 his grandmother died, leaving him in financial independence of his father and enabling him to abandon the study of law, on which his father had insisted, in order to give his attention fully to music. At the Conservatoire he had instruction in organ and composition at first as an observer in the class of César Franck, before becoming a student at the Conservatoire, where he completed his studies in 1875. He became an ardent disciple of Franck, whose music he later did much to promote. D’Indy’s career at the Conservatoire, he claimed, brought no great distinction and his later dissatisfaction with the formal instruction there, when his suggestions for reform were rejected, led him, with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant, to establish the Schola Cantorum, which opened its doors in 1896. D’Indy remained associated with the Schola for the rest of his life, as a teacher of composition and conducting attracting talented pupils from France and abroad. Conservative by temperament, he found little to please him in the later modernist trends in French music. After the defeat of France in 1871, he had joined the attempts to foster French music, Ars Gallica, through the Société Nationale de Musique, in association with Saint-Saëns, Romain Bussine and Alexis de Castillon, but this did not diminish his admiration for Wagner. By the final decade of his life, however, his music had seemingly dated; he could not approve of Cocteau and his associates, regretting the frivolity of his former pupil Georges Auric and contemporary fashions.

D’Indy’s Lied, Op. 19, originally for cello and orchestra, was written in 1884, a work that has all the beauty and grace of a Fauré song. His Sonata in D for cello and piano, Op. 84, was written in 1924–25. It opens with an introductory movement, Entrée, music of elegant charm, breathing, as always, the spirit of France, here with a nostalgia for older forms. The second movement is in the French baroque form of a Gavotte en rondeau, but in no way mere pastiche. It starts with the plucked notes of the cello, a dance for lute, moving forward into contrasting material, with the cello providing a counterpoint to the original theme, and then with the rôles of cello and piano reversed. The third movement, Air, marked Très lent, has a mood of gentle melancholy. This is dispelled by the final Gigue, marked Gaiment, a well-crafted movement, a more solid use of an ancient form than that found in the work of some of his younger contemporaries.

Keith Anderson

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