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French Sonatas

French Sonatas

  • By Ben Opie
  • Release 4/08/2013
  • Media Format CD
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Price: $53.40

Product Notes

A Conversation With Ben Opie & Peter de Jager: What brought you to this repertoire? Ben Opie: Some of this repertoire is rarely played and almost never recorded and I thought it was important to find a platform to record and perform such beautiful music. The mix of this repertoire is so diverse within it's particular style of 20th Century French Sonatas. Peter de Jager: Despite their diversity of moods, thoughts and harmonic languages, all five sonatas are meticulously put together - as per the notorious rigours of French Conservatory training - stretching from Saint-Saëns who is essentially a 19th Century creation to Dutilleux who is still alive and whose birthday it is this week! [at the time of recording] How did you come about choosing this repertoire? B: I wanted to be sure that the CD would encompass, within a style, a huge range of what oboe can do, and what the piano can do, and what the piano and oboe can do together. I hope we've captured this in the recording. Tell us about your collaboration between yourself and Peter. B: Peter and I have been working together on and off for a couple of years now. It simply seemed like a perfect match, given both our backgrounds and studies. We'd been looking for projects to work on together; it was lovely to be able to prepare these pieces for the CD and also to have the opportunity to perform them live at the Stones of the Yarra Valley. P: Yes, I think performing them live furnished us with insights as to how the pieces worked in terms of their energy. That was the first time we'd performed any of these pieces together in a live setting, and to do that before recording them I think informed the way we played in the studio. Tell us about the composers. B: In terms of the composers, there isn't much that links them together... P: ... Milhaud and Poulenc were both members of "les six", but even that group was unified in their diversity. B: Yes, I think that carries through with all of the composers, given their location and the time in which they lived. Some would have crossed paths with one another, but actually it's quite evident in the music how different they were and how different their styles were. P: I've begun to see it as a kind of journey from one generation to the next, maybe even spanning three. The generation of Saint-Saëns, who was writing in 1921 even though he was born in the 1840s - so he was genuinely of the 19th Century style. Then you can say Koechlin was of the turn of the century style, which I think has elements of both worlds. Milhaud and Poulenc were contemporaries and while they don't sound very similar on this disc I think they wrote music that has similarities in other contexts. And of course Dutilleux was, in this piece, particularly drawing on that earlier generation - the Milhauds and the Poulencs... it's a nice progression! B: Saint-Saëns is represented here more as a 19th century composer. This sonata is interesting as it was composed as part of a set, one for each wind instrument, which he was trying to complete before he died. Unfortunately he only made it to 3 of them: the clarinet, bassoon and, of course, oboe sonatas. The Sonata for Oboe and Piano was written in the year of his death, 1921. In our study of this work, we noticed the influence of Bach on Saint-Saëns' writing, particularly in the first movement. P: I always find it interesting how composers later in their lives turn to that more sparse style. It's as if they're thinking, 'Well, I've written all the notes in the past, there are so many of them and I shouldn't add too many more!' The Dutilleux is interesting - I believe the oboe sonata was one of the works he later disowned. His piano sonata, which he wrote in 1945, he retroactively called his Opus 1, claiming he was no longer responsible for the pieces written prior. B: Yes, this was written while he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire for an exam. P: Knowing some of the other pieces he rejected, this piece is remarkably coherent in it's style; some of the others he thought were too derivative of other composers. But I think you hear less of that in the oboe sonata than say the flute sonatine, or others. You know... I never felt much for it when I had worked on it in the past. But feeling now like I've 'done it properly', I admire it not only for it's construction but also that it contains real extremes of mood from the harrowing first movement aria to the almost air of placid banality in the last movement. I came to think of this piece no longer as being in a 'nice' semi-dissonant style, but as something with real drama and depth. B: Yeah... It's got it all! The Poulenc, as with the Saint-Saëns, was written very late in Poulenc's life. It's been speculated that the third movement of the Poulenc Sonata was the last piece of music he ever wrote. Which is something to reflect on; I certainly did when I was playing it. It was a work written in memoriam of Prokofiev's death, and this is very evident - you can hear elements of Prokofiev's style popping up throughout. It's a profound piece. What about the Koechlin... B: The Koechlin! Chronologically, this piece was written the earliest, but in our opinion is the most progressive. This mammoth work, which can run for nearly half an hour in performance, is one of the more rarely played sonatas. Not only because of it's length and the stamina required from both players, but also the fact that it is so emotionally intense. P: It's French yet also very un-French in some ways. There's a spaciousness to it and a sense of excess. B: As with the Dutilleux, it covers all bases. There are subtitles for the first three movements and he really takes you on a journey through a mystical French countryside, ranging from a pastoral scene, to dancing fauns to a jazzy evening in the village. There's no subtitle for the fourth movement, it's just marked "Finale", but it has been said that this last movement were memories of him in his country home as a child. There is a lovely quote from Koechlin: "The artist needs an ivory tower, not as an escape from the world, but as a place where he can view the world and be himself. This tower is for the artist, like a lighthouse shining out across the world." Which gives us an idea of the broad range of his scope and does seem to fit with this sonata. It's a fascinating journey that Koechlin takes us on, not in a conventional manner, not in a strict sonata form. P: It does follow the broad themes of sonata form: a rhapsodic opening, a scherzo, a slow movement and a finale, but apart from that, it bears no resemblance. I find it odd that the scherzo is so weighty... I wonder why there are two other movements after it, to be honest! Of course, I feel like I do know, but it's just interesting that he didn't save the biggest until the end, like most people might... We also found the epitaph on his gravestone that read, roughly translated, "The spirit of my output and also that of my whole life is above all, a spirit of freedom." B: Then the Milhaud! This delightful gem... P: That's a nice way of putting it! B: *laughs* Yes... again, it's rarely played and there is not much information pertaining to it except that it was written in the 50's for Lois Wann, an American oboist. However, Milhaud is known to be one of the more prolific composers of the 20th century and we know that the people he taught were so broad ranging! From Burt Bacharach to Dave Brubeck and Stockhausen, Xenakis, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, etc! He actually told his student, Burt Bacharach, "Don't be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don't ever feel discomfited by a melody." Bacharach of course has written some of the most memorable tunes ever composed! P: The Milhaud, I wondered, because there's so little information, whether there was an element of lampooning the predominant style at the time in France. Which was, of course, the integral serialism of Boulez. There are passages in the piano part with weird random leaps and haphazard dynamic changes that seem as if he may be parodying that certain style in part. The Koechlin seems to be a pretty big part in this album... having performed and recorded it, how do you feel the audience will react to it? B: I've had mixed reactions from listeners towards it. Some are frustrated by it's duration and also simply it's scope, but I think it's a piece that you have to sit down and soak up and let it ferment. The more you get to know it, and the more you listen to it, the more you can appreciate it. I also think sometimes we do need to be challenged in listening to music and allow ourselves to be taken on a musical journey. I think that if you let this music take you, it can be something extraordinary. P: Yes, when we say it's radical, it doesn't necessarily sound like it on the surface. It's different for different people. How do you compare this version of the Koechlin to other interpretations? B: I think the nice thing about playing a piece that is so rarely performed or recorded means that we have been able to build our own version of the Koechlin Sonata for Oboe and Piano, without being weighed down by preconceived notions of how it should sound. Rather, Peter and I consciously worked to interpret this piece based on our own particular styles, as well as our thoughts about what the composer was attempting to portray. P: I find it wonderfully freeing not to have the weight of tradition behind something. I try and always play pieces that aren't played very often, just because of that! B: Yes, especially compared to the Saint-Saëns, which has many, many recordings. This presents it's own difficulties in trying to break free from what you've heard in the past. P: And it's very easy to go too far, as well, and say 'I must do something different' just crazily, because what you've heard is all much the same. B: It has been a wonderful journey through 20th Century France for us. We're very excited about what we've created and both look forward to performing these beautiful pieces live again in the near future. Biographies Ben Opie is an oboist whose talents extend across the entire repertoire for oboe. He has performed in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia as a soloist, collaborative and an orchestral musician. His work across the globe has earned him multiple awards and recognitions, such as the Phyllis C Wattis Foundation Scholarship, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music award for new music, the 42nd International Summer Course for New Music Scholarship, Darmstadt and the Inaugural Double Reed Challenge, section Oboe winner. In 2012 and 2013 Ben was acting associate principal oboe in the West Australian Symphony and principal oboe in the Oz Opera touring orchestra. He has also worked with most of the Australian symphony orchestras. His collaborative efforts have led him to work with a range of creative artists such as producer Gretchen Miller on her Radio National documentary: The Ariadne Project, Michael Bardon and the Myriad Ensemble at Adelaide's Feast Festival and with the Sydney Chamber Opera for their production "I Have Had Enough". For his work in this production, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote "...the soothing strings and plangently rich oboe solo (Benjamin Opie) of the introduction of Bach's cantata, soothed the soul..." He also worked with countless poets as part of a project called "Breathing Space" to which he contributed both as performer and associate director. Peter de Jager has extremely wide musical interests, including early music, standard and contemporary classical repertoire, music theatre, and various other forms of popular music. He is in demand as a soloist and collaborative artist on piano and harpsichord, and has particularly championed the latter in more contemporary contexts, having helped develop new Australian works featuring the instrument. Peter's compositions are starting to gain more attention, and in 2012, he was young composer in residence at the Australian National Academy of Music. He was himself a student at the Academy from 2007-2008, studying with Rita Reichman, and later at the University of Melbourne, where he studied piano with Stephen McIntyre, harpsichord with Ann Morgan, and Composition with Stuart Greenbaum and Elliott Gyger. Recent achievements include his performance of the demanding solo piano part of the Turangalila-Symphonie of Olivier Messiaen, in collaboration with the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, the world premiere of Elliott Gyger's celeste concerto Angels and Insects with the University of Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, and the inaugural first prize at the Australian Internation Chopin Competition, held at the Australian National University in Canberra. In addition, he has twice traveled to the Lucerne Festival Academy, playing contemporary European ensemble and chamber music under the baton and artistic direction of Pierre Boulez, as well as to the Bang on a Can Summer Institute in North Adams, Massachussets.

Details

Title: French Sonatas
Release Date: 4/08/2013
Label: CD Baby
Media Format: CD
UPC: 9345391000279
Item #: 903889X
This product is a special order