Tuesday 12 March 2024

Upheaval: cellist Janne Fredens & pianist Søren Rastogi in music by four women composers from the years 1911 to 1918

Upheaval: Henriëtta Bosmans, Dora Pejačević, Nadia Boulanger, Lili Boulanger; Janne Fredens, Søren Rastogi; OUR Recordings

Upheaval: Henriëtte Bosmans, Dora Pejačević, Nadia Boulanger, Lili Boulanger; Janne Fredens, Søren Rastogi; OUR Recordings
Reviewed 4 March 2024

Four women from three countries with music for cello and piano spanning the years 1911 to 1918 in an imaginative and passionate recital from a Danish husband and wife duo

The four cello works featured on this disc are all major works by women, and written during the period 1911 to 1918. The disc's title Upheaval thus refers both to the women challenging the musical conventions of the day and to the general upheaval happing in Europe at the time. Released on the OUR Recordings label it features the husband and wife duo Janne Fredens (cello) and Søren Rastogi (piano).

One of Holland's greatest pianists, Henriëtte Bosmans career was disrupted by the Nazi occupation and never quite got back on track. Her relatively early Sonata for Cello and piano is a large-scale serious work, a sweeping opening movement evoking memories of Brahms, followed by a wonderfully lyrically flowing second movement and then a quietly intense third. It is this third movement where we seem to firmly land in the 20th century. We end with a vigorous and forceful finale.

Ten years older than Bosmans, Dora Pejačević was the daughter of a Croatian count and a mother who was an educated singer and pianist. Largely self-taught, she had completed a dozen large-scale chamber works whilst still in her teens. She died tragically at the age of 38 after giving birth. Her Sonata for Cello and piano begins with a dark and serious Allegro moderato where her Hungarian and Viennese links surface. The music is perhaps slightly backwards looking, but full of promise and passion. Next comes a highly characterful scherzo, followed by a darkly soulful slow movement. Pejačević volunteered as a nurse during the First War, and you feel that the implicit melancholy of throughout this work might reflect her experiences. We end with movement which seems to reflect her love of Brahms and Dvorak.

These two large-scale sonatas, showcase a form that was changing and going out of fashion, and both works sits firmly in established traditions and both could have seems somewhat old-fashioned. They are followed by a group of occasional pieces by come occasional pieces by the Boulanger sisters, where we do feel a whiff of the changes that were happening to music itself.

First Nocturne by Lili Boulanger, whose tragically short life still managed to encompass some remarkable creativity. Nocturne was written when she was 18, the year before she won the Prix de Rome. It lyrical flowing style perhaps betraying that it was first written for flute and piano. The world here is well away from that of Bosmans and Pejačević, we are looking at the seductions of the post-Debussian world of 20th-century French music. Nadia Boulanger was also a gifted composer, though on her sister's death she chose to divert that creativity into other channels. Her Trois pièces date from 1914, the first two originally organ piece. The first two elegant and expressive, the third vivid and vigorous, they deserve to be better known and make you wonder what she would have achieved if she had persevered.

This is an imaginative and passionate disc. Fredens and Rastogi give committed and vibrant performances of music that is sometimes large-scale and like the women who wrote it, threatens to break the bounds. I could quite easily (and lazily) titled this review, 'Sisters are doing it for themselves' as the disc provides a snapshot of a moment when four women from three different countries were all challenging the status quo and writing their own music.

Henriëtta Bosmans (1895-1952) - Sonata for cello and piano (1918)
Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) - Sonata for cello and piano (1919)
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) - Nocturne (1911)
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) - Trois pièces  (1914)
Janne Fredens (cello)
Søren Rastogi (piano)
OUR Recordings 6.220683 1CD [60.53]

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