Hyperion Records

Violin Sonata No 1 in C sharp minor

'Bréville & Canteloube: Violin Sonatas' (CDA67427)
Bréville & Canteloube: Violin Sonatas
Movement 1: Mouvement modéré
Movement 2: Gai, mais pas trop vite
Movement 3: Lamento: Extrêmement lent
Movement 4: Modérément animé et martial

Violin Sonata No 1 in C sharp minor
In spite of his preoccupation with vocal music, Bréville wrote a number of instrumental works, including sonatas for cello (1930) and viola (1944). His C sharp minor Violin Sonata, composed in 1918–19, was the first of five, the last of which was composed in 1947, when he was eighty-six – two years after his last song, and two years before his death. The score of the First Sonata is inscribed ‘à la mémoire du lieutenant Gervais Cazes’; it was premiered by no less a figure than George Enescu, accompanied by another outstanding musician, Blanche Selva, at the Société Nationale de Musique on 20 March 1920.

The work begins almost as a cabaret song: one can imagine the opening violin line, over stamping chords, sung in some smoky Spanish night-club – although after five bars the rolling, Fauréan piano-writing removes any doubt as to the composer’s nationality. The two ideas are combined as the extensive development section sets out – though it’s soon put on hold while Bréville unwraps a gorgeous lyrical melody in calm but rapt dialogue between piano and violin. The dramatic opening phrases then return for further development, where they alternate with the material from the lyrical episode – the piano harmonies just before the onset of the coda recalling Bréville’s early fascination with Wagner.

The second movement is an A–B–A structure, but Bréville, always a sucker for development, has it both ways: the B section, introduced by a brief upwards run in the violin, simply takes over the existing material, converting its 2/4 time-signature into 3/4.

The dark third movement, a Lamento marked extrêmement lent, is based on Bréville’s song Héros, je vous aime, a 1915 orchestral setting of a text by Henri de Régnier in praise of the French soldiers who had died in action in the First World War – then, of course, providing the major part of every Frenchman’s fears. Mimi Daitz doesn’t pull any punches in her discussion of Héros, je vous aime: it is, she says, ‘grandiose, bombastic, trite’. She was unable to locate the score of the orchestral version of the song and wonders if the overblown and occasionally awkward piano-writing can be ascribed to its condensation of orchestral textures – problems which are then exported into the Sonata, where for twenty-three bars the tolling piano part reproduces that of the song, with some rhythmic alterations and harmonic expansion. The violin-writing likewise suggests a vocal origin, with the influence of Fauré again plain to hear. As an instrumental duo, the music in large measure escapes the strictures levelled against the song; the emotion of this lament never quite finds a focus, although it does achieve a kind of transcendence in the lyricism of its closing pages.

The terse piano-writing of the opening of the finale, marked Modérément animé et martial, immediately recalls that of Alkan, whose reputation would already have begun to sink into obscurity when Bréville began his career – but the violin teasingly moderates the hint of anger and the movement swings on its way, alternating dance-like episodes with more lyrical material. Bréville being Bréville, he can’t resist the developmental urge, producing a tension with the essential freshness of his themes – and perhaps extending the structure beyond their carrying capacity. On the final page of the score, the piano at last pauses to deliver a chord held over four bars – and the violin substitutes the memory of Fauré for an evocation of Chausson and, behind him, their old teacher, César Franck. An unintentional homage, almost certainly, and all the more telling for it.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2004

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