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They spoke about it

Album information

Focused primarily on French music from the first half of the 20th century, this album reveals the subtle blend of sonorities formed by the harp, cello, and violin through the trios of Jacques Ibert and Henriette Renié. The exploration of this period continues with Danse des lutins, an acrobatic work for harp by Renié. Antoine Bareil and Stéphane Tétreault then perform the dazzling, encore-worthy Passacaglia for violin and cello by Handel/Halvorsen, before Valérie Milot re-joins the trio for a sweet, introspective finale in the form of a Schubert lied arranged for these forces.

Trio for violin, cello and harp by Jacques Ibert

Jacques Ibert was born in Paris in 1890. Introduced to the piano by his mother, an excellent pianist, he soon discovered his musical vocation. However, his father’s desire for him to embark on a business career delayed young Jacques’ entry into the Conservatoire until 1911, and his studies were further interrupted by what he felt was a moral duty to fight in World War I, even though fragile health would have exempted him. Despite four years of military service, Ibert won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome in 1919. The three years he spent in the Villa Medici as winner began a long-standing relationship with the Académie de France in Rome, of which he became director in 1937. He was there in 1940 when Mussolini declared war on France and Great Britain. Forced to return home, he was only just mobilized when the armistice was signed. The war was a difficult time for Ibert, and he employed numerous strategies to avoid cooperating with the Germans, who would have liked to see him involved in the Paris music scene.

It was during this period that his daughter Jacqueline, a talented 20-year-old harpist, “commissioned” a trio for violin, cello, and harp (1944) in exchange for which she promised to give him all the cigarettes, so rare during wartime, she could get her hands on. With its delicate writing and ethereal texture, the Trio opens with a luminous “Allegro tranquillo”. The “Andante sostenuto” that follows, in which sensual melodies in the violin and cello intertwine above rich harmonies in the harp – in the first and third sections – seems to suspend time but eventually falls into the lively, perpetual-motion-like “Scherzando con moto” that closes the work.

Trio for violin, cello and harp by Henriette Renié

Born in 1875, Henriette Renié played the piano from early childhood. She became fascinated with the harp at the age of five but had to wait three more years – until she was tall enough for her hands to reach the strings – before she could begin playing the instrument. Once started, however, she made astounding progress: by the age of 11, she was awarded the Premier Prix from the Conservatoire de Paris. A few years later, Renié became the first girl to take the fugue and composition course at the Conservatoire, studying with Charles Lenepveu. It was this “dear master” to whom she dedicated her trio for violin, cello, and harp. Composed in 1901, the same year her Concerto in C Minor for Harp was premiered, this chamber music work was clearly written with a view to taking the harp beyond the orchestral role to which it had therefore been confined.

Renié’s Trio blends the harmonic refinement that characterizes French music with the thematic cohesion typical of the Germanic tradition. The work opens with an “Allegro risoluto” in sonata form, certain passages of which evoke the first movement of César Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor. In the contrasting “Scherzo” that follows, the almost rustic simplicity of the middle section is juxtaposed with the fantastic, furtive, and mysterious character of the surrounding sections. After an intimate and poignant “Andante,” the “Finale” opens with an enigmatic introduction that recalls the main themes of the preceding movements. Out of this surprising start, which blends recognition with uncertainty, emerges a quick folkmusic-inspired movement that concludes the work with a festive flourish.

Danse des lutins by Henriette Renié

Renié also contributed to the solo harp repertoire, both by transcribing numerous works for piano and by composing original works such as Danse des Lutins (Dance of the Elves). Like many of her compositions, this is a highly virtuosic piece that takes its inspiration from a literary work, in this case, lines from Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel: “Merry elves their morris pacing,/ To aërial minstrelry/ […] Up, and mark their nimble feet!/ Up, and list their music sweet!”

Passacaglia for violin and cello by Johan Halvorsen

The album concludes with two transcriptions. First, Passacaglia for violin and cello (1894) by Johan Halvorsen, freely inspired by the last movement (no. 7) of Georg Friedrich Handel’s Suite in G Minor for harpsichord. This series of melodic and rhythmic variations over an inexorable harmonic progression is an astonishing demonstration of agility by two musicians. It also gives rise to several intensely dramatic moments.

Lied Lob der Tränen, S.557/R.242

 by Franz Schubert

After these fireworks, harp, violin, and cello reunite for one last encore: an adaptation of Franz Schubert’s lied “Lob der Tränen” (In Praise of Tears), composed on a text by August Wilhelm von Schlegel around 1819. This poignant song is a bitter-sweet meditation on the fleetingness of existence and the eternity of desire.

© Florence Brassard
Translated by Peter Christensen

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About

Valérie Milot
Antoine Bareil
AN 7 8799 Octuor Schubert Solistes OSM
AN 7 8799 Octuor Schubert Solistes OSM

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