Dindy piano PCL10255

Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931)
Piano Sonata in E Minor Op. 63 (1907)
Albéric Magnard (1865-1914)
Promenades Op. 7 (1893)
Sofia Andreoli (piano)
rec. 2023, Studio G&G Ardea, Rome, Italy
Piano Classics PCL10255 [69]

Vincent d’Indy was one of those composers – Cherubini was another – whose works are valued by music lovers because of their integrity and craftsmanship but who will never reach a wide audience because of their lack of a strong melodic gift. In his own time d’Indy was a very significant figure. He founded the music college the Schola Cantorum, where his pupils included Magnard, Roussel, Canteloube, Honegger and Milhaud. As a composer he was greatly influenced by César Franck, of whose music he remained a champion, and also by Wagner – he attended the premiere of the Ring in 1876. His own compositions are rarely heard nowadays, his Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français just about managing to cling on to the fringe of the repertoire. However, he has been reasonably well recorded, though you will have to search to find some of his works.

D’Indy wrote a fair amount of piano music; Michael Schäfer’s survey on the Genuin label runs to three discs. His sole Piano Sonata is much the largest and most important of these. This is a massive work lasting nearly three quarters of an hour, with two longer outer movements framing a shorter middle one. The opening movement begins with a kind of fanfare, after which we have a long theme, which is the subject of several variations. The idiom is rich and chromatic, very similar to that of Franck’s two big piano works, the Prélude, Chorale et Fugue and the Prélude, Aria et Final. The middle movement is a scherzo with two trios and is in complete contrast with the first movement, lighthearted and, surprisingly, written in 5/4. The finale brings back the fanfares but leads to another long winding theme which is developed in various ways before the main theme of the first movement returns in a big climax which leads to a quiet end. In this movement we occasionally hear the whole-tone scale, surprising since d’Indy became very reactionary and in his later years disapproved of Debussy and other more recent composers. This is an impressive work but difficult to love because of the restless chromaticism and the fact that the themes are not very memorable.

Magnard is best remembered not for his life or work but for the fact that he died defending his home from the advancing German army in 1914. As a composer he was successively a pupil, colleague and friend of d’Indy and another disciple of Franck. His four symphonies are probably his best-known compositions though there are also a few chamber works. Here we have his Promenades, a set of character pieces based on French towns. These rather reminded me of the earlier pieces in Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, though Magnard has a surprise in making his penultimate piece, Trianon, a fugue. These are all charming pieces, slighter than d’Indy’s big sonata but attractive.

The young Italian pianist Sofia Andreoli offers fluent pianism, a complete command of the challenging textures of the d’Indy, and she brings light and shade to his sometimes clotted textures. She is equally persuasive in Magnard’s miniatures. The recording is excellent and the booklet notes helpful. Those who want to explore French music beyond the standard works will enjoy this.

Stephen Barber

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