5 de Diapason -
4 étoiles du Monde de la Musique -
9 de Classica-Répertoire
The prevailing wisdom about late Romantic French music is that it is inferior to the German model; a ridiculous notion, but it has proven very powerful in the way such music is received and evaluated over the course of musical history. One of the finest, most well-rounded talents to be found in French music during the transitional period between romanticism and early modernism is Gabriel Pierné, whose work begins in a post-Franckian idiom, picks up some elements along the way from impressionism, and, toward the end, adopts stylistic gestures from Stravinsky and the tart, pithy neo-Classicism of Les Six. However, in terms of formal development models and overall mood, all of Pierné's work remains faithful in its essentials to his initial contact with César Franck and to the group of composers within Franck's sphere of influence -- Tournemire, Duparc, Chausson, and Silvio Lazzari among them. The Belgian label Timpani is surveying the practically forgotten chamber output of Pierné, of which this, Gabriel Pierné: La Musique de Chambre, Vol. 2, is the second entry.
Pierné's music is performed by members of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg under the general direction of pianist Christian Ivaldi. Pierné's single-movement Cello Sonata (1922) is like a chat with a brilliant conversationalist, moving forward in a sort of logic of its own but diverging from the path here and there. It is flanked by two cello pieces from the 1880s, and these are so similar to the solo sonata in feeling that one is surprised to discover that not all of these pieces are cut from the same cloth. The Trio for violin, cello and piano, Op. 45 (1920-1921), is an unquestionable masterwork, romantic in style but tinged with just enough impressionistic flair to make it stand out from purely romantic works of its kind. It is a very long Trio, lasting 41 minutes all told; the first movement alone runs 20 minutes and has some extraordinarily sustained passages of suspended harmony that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.
The second disc is made up of shorter pieces, most from the last years of Pierné's life. Special guests the Quatuor de saxophones de Luxembourg turn in a bracing reading of Pierné's Introduction et variations sur un theme populaire, written for legendary saxophonist Marcel Mule, which runs in its eight minutes from a deeply affecting slow section to peppy and invigorating finale -- it certainly could have run longer. Pierné's music did not contribute to the innovations of his time, but it certainly was never reactionary and he preferred to reflect the developments around him; the Impromptu-Caprice for harp could easily be mistaken for an early work of Gabriel Fauré, whereas the Introduction et variations sur un theme populaire is reminiscent of Darius Milhaud. Pierné's scoring is very generous and instrument-friendly, and although some of these pieces have appeared on recording before, they have never been performed with such dedication as they are here. If you like Debussy, Fauré, or other composers of the French school of the fin de siècle, then chances are you will also like Timpani's Gabriel Pierné: La Musique de Chambre, Vol. 2, down to its amusing choice of cover illustration.