Ravel: À Moune - Tur Bonet, Testori, Goy
Challenge Classics CC 72916
Classical - Chamber
Ravel: Chamber works for Violin
Lina Tur Bonet (violin)
Marco Testori (cello)
Pierre Goy (piano, luthéal piano)
Hélène Jourdan Mourhange met Ravel for the first time after a concert in which she performed his Trio. She was an interesting, intelligent woman, well versed in the arts and culture of her time, and was a talented violinist who, however, had to stop playing years later due to rheumatoid arthritis. She then dedicated herself to musicology, reviews and other artistic activities. Not only that she was, like me, a violin player, but also shared that same disease, which I suffered in my youth. This has made me feel even closer to Ravel, and to feel a desire to make a tribute to Hélène by recording all the pieces written for her and thanks to her.
The close friendship between the two lasted throughout the life of the composer and he often asked her for advice while composing his violin works. In their inexhaustible friendship he affectionately called her "Moune".
Together with Marechal, she premiered “Sonata for violin and cello” (1921) dedicated to Claude Debussy, one of Ravel’s bravest compositions.
He also dedicated his Violin Sonata (1923-27) to her, a work to which he devoted much energy and time, and in which he tried to combine two instruments that he actually considered incompatible. The first poetic movement is very similar to the first movements of the Duo and the Piano Trio, but the rest seems to have been more complicated for him, taking years to finish. Finally, he wrote a blues as a second movement, and a Perpetuum Mobile heavily influenced by the modern music they used to listen to on their long nights together in Paris. He also composed for Hélène the marvelous “Berceuse sur le nome de Gabriel Fauré” (1922), using the letters of his teacher's name turned into notes to build the simple and magical melody that she could still play. Although Ravel asked Hélène to bring him the violin and the 24 Paganini Capriccios as inspiration for the composition of the Tzigane (1924), and was helped by her again, this time the piece was dedicated to the hungarian violinist. He wanted to make a virtuoso piece inspired on Paganini and Liszt, and probably Hélène, due to her illness, was no longer able to perform. He made three versions of the Tzigane, for the virtuoso violin accompanied by the piano, an orchestral version, and also the most unique, accompanied by the Luthéal, a prepared piano with registers of a harpsichord and the cymbal-like sound, with its wonderful gypsy and rhapsodic character.
This tribute arrives for me in a moment in which every work I perform is combined with a deep study of the performance of those times. This is why we chose to record on gut strings (as they did then), bows from that moment and a historical piano, as well as the less known version of the Tzigane with the Lutheal. The blending of gut strings between violin and cello, as well as with the old piano and the Lutheal is unique and helps to understand many of the aspects of performance in many old recordings.
This is a ‘concept-album’ around Maurice Ravel and his special relation with Hélène Jourdan Mourhange, a dear friend and violinist. The programme is set-up in order to take the listener by the hand into Ravel’s musical world through a series of pieces which are gradually more deep and complex. The music is played on a 1935 Hautrive piano, while violin and cello are played on gut strings. The Tzigane is in the rarest version for Luthéal (Pleyel, 1910), a period prepared piano with a gipsy character. About Lina Tur Bonet, Diapason writes: “Impressive: Lina Tur Bonet’s discography aligns beautiful achievements’. Indeed her previous releases have already collected all European awards.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 19, 2022
This new release, presented as a ‘concept-album’ around Maurice Ravel, has numerous points of interest. Firstly, the use of gut strings and special bows, as was customary at the time; Secondly, the choice of pianos, one of which ‘prepared’, a so-called piano-luthéal, (to be used in one of the reductions Ravel made for his “Morceau de virtuosité dans le goût d'une rhapsodie hongroise”); and thirdly, the choice of works limited to those Ravel wrote for his friend Hélène Jourdan Mourhange, ‘Moune’ for short, the conceptual raison d’être for Lina’s recital. For brevity, I refer to the liner notes, especially the very personal ones written by Mme Lina Tur Bonet.
La pièce de résistance is no doubt Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. It is sometimes referred to as Ravel’s second as he wrote another one while still studying. It was published in 1975 under the title Sonate No. 1 ‘Postume’. Not that it really matters, but I mention this for the record and smart aleck.
Being core repertoire for confirmed violinists, there are many good readings, a dozen of which on SACD. Some time ago John Miller positively reviewed The sound of the 20's - Tarara / Vakova-Tarara and Graham Williams was lyrical about Ravel: Tzigane - Winther, Wood, Romaniuk. But there are more noteworthy recordings, like for instance Rhapsody - Philippens, van Nieuwekerk. And then, there are some of the usual ‘Great Names’, sadly on RBCD only. It may be evident that in such a crowded field competition is fierce for any newcomer.
Before turning to the sonata, and following the order of the programme, I had my appetite whetted by a lovingly shaded performance of Ravel’s ‘Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré’, composed for Moune. The soft-edged tone of Lina Tur Bonet’s violin lends itself most compellingly to the magic of the melodie.
As demonstrated in the Sonata, Lina's artistry covers a wide scale of tastes. With strong, decisive, full-blooded poetry, she remains fully in control throughout the first movement. The proof of the pudding, however, lies in the handling of the Blues. It took Ravel a long time to decide why and how to do it (the Sonata took him many years to complete), but it took Lina only a fraction of that to convince me that she and her piano partner, Pierre Goy, strummin’ the keys, had ‘it’. A fascinating translation of the blues into the realm of classical music. Indeed, Lina’s blues is one of the finest I’ve heard in a long time, though not in terms of tristesse or melancholy, but of a ‘courageously accepting facts of life’ kind of character. In the third ‘Perpetuum mobile’ movement, Mme Tur Bonet brought all her virtuosity to bear without blinking an eye. Secure bowing and her tonal perfection are most impressive.
The Sonata being of a level that can proudly withstand any competition, with the Tzigane we enter the world of virtuosi and for me the real summit of the menu. Interestingly, Lina says in her personal notes that “… contrary to other virtuosic music, [Ravel’s] does not seem empty or banal at all”. The importance of this view is thoroughly reflected in her reading. It is not just about glamour and glitter. The introductory solo is played with a rare sensitivity, going beyond following the notes in rapid succession. Moreover, with her superb technique, she gracefully emulates what Ravel must have felt when listening to the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Arányi playing Bartok’s First Violin Sonata, a feeling he so genially recreated in his ‘taste of a Hungarian rhapsody’.
Having opted for Ravel’s version with piano-luthéal, an instrument that is no longer readily available, it enhances the gipsy-like atmosphere of the Tzigane with the additional cymbalom sound this piano can deliver. Whilst the violinist takes centre stage, I’d like to draw listeners’ attention to Pierre Goy, playing the piano and handling the stops for the cymbalom so adroitly. A wonderful experience.
For most perhaps an odd element in the programme, the duo for violin and cello is a splendid example of a tour the force that can only make sense if played by two equal musicians complementing each other in an intriguingly exposed counterpoint balancing act. Here Lina is in ‘conversation’ with cellist Marco Testori. In, or rather under, the hands of both this fascinating piece of music comes to life.
Its first performance was not an immediate success. Ravel wanted the violin to sound like a cello and vice versa. In the plucked second movement the listener needs to listen with both ears wide open, as the two instruments become so much intertwined that it is at times difficult to hear who is playing what. Is this the essence? Like a colourful bouquet of wild flowers of all kinds bound together, including those one might call ‘weeds’, but what we in France now call ‘des herbes bio indicateurs’.
With a Sonata that counts among the very best, a magistral Tzigane in a seldom heard version with Luthéal piano, a perfect blend between Violin and Cello in Duet, and, finally, and not in the least, an affectionate personification of Moune in a charming Berceuse, this new release carries off my highest praise, and surely that from anyone else enchanted by such committed musicians as Lina Tur Bonet and her partners, Marco Testori and Pierre Goy.
As for the recorded sound: Good wine does not need a crown. Challenge Classics best releases, and this is one of them, are invariably engineered by Bert van der Wolf’s Northstar Recording Services, so you know what to expect.
In conclusion one more for the record: Both pianos used in this recording are the property of the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, Belgium, where the recording took place as well.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France
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