Hyperion Records

Suite for piano and string orchestra in F minor
Dubois wrote in his diary on the date of 24 August 1917: ‘Today is the eightieth anniversary of my birth! Thank God, I am still in pretty good health and fit enough. My grand-daughter greeted me this morning with these words: “Grandpa, there are plenty of eighty-year-olds who are in worse shape than you!” A sweet tribute of childish innocence! I can still work without fatigue, and indeed today I have just finished writing a Suite for piano and strings. It seems not too bad to me, but I may be deceiving myself, alas! I shall leave it be for a while; that is a good way to assess it more accurately a little later. I have often felt the benefit of proceeding thus.’

The Suite comprises four contrasting movements in a manner reminiscent of that of the Suite concertante for cello, piano and orchestra, written in 1912. Already, at that time, Dubois had wondered which form to adopt: ‘I’m starting on a work for piano, cello and orchestra … What should I call it? “Concerto”, “Symphonie concertante”, or “Suite concertante”? “Concerto” is rather hackneyed; “Symphony” much too solemn; “Suite” seems to me more appropriate to the nature of the ideas I want to use and the development I want to give them. So it will be, I think, a suite, and in four sections.’

The Suite of 1917 begins with a Moderato of a certain gravity in which the strings are treated in a genuinely symphonic style. A tight-knit melodic dialogue gives way to a more virtuosic outpouring from the piano at the end of the movement. The scherzo prolongs the alternating discourse of the first movement, notably in its sinuous secondary theme. This very brief movement ends with a touch of humour. The splendid slow movement does not deny itself the pleasure of an ardent, tender post-Romanticism. The cellos and a solo violin display the full potential of an orchestra of divided strings, with the keyboard slipping willingly into the role of accompanist. The finale, more classical in cut with its unison scales and its almost Mozartian runs, is initially founded on brief motifs rather than a true theme. But soon a lyrical section recalls Dubois’s usual language. It is here that certain harmonic colorations and offbeat rhythmic accents seem to herald the future wave of neoclassicism (even though the composer was contemptuous of this in its more modern manifestations). The formidable energy of this finale at no point allows one to guess the venerable age of its composer.

from notes by Alexandre Dratwicki © 2013
English: Charles Johnston

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