Palm Beach Post; December 03, 2006
Shedding light on women composers
The season brings gifts from local classical groups, including Seraphic Fire (a live recording of its survey last season of the six Bach motets), the Ibis Camerata (a disc on Albany Records featuring University of Miami-related composers), and finally, the only one I have at this time, a record of three works for cello and piano by female composers.
The record, just out on Eroica, and called Works for Cello and Piano by Women Composers, features the cellist Iris van Eck, who directs Fort Lauderdale’s Chameleon concert series, which opens another season next week (details here). The pianist is Arielle Vernede, who like van Eck is a native of the Netherlands.
I’ve listened to this disc a couple times, and need to hear it some more to make myself more familiar with this music, but it’s certainly worth hearing, especially if you’re interested in rarely played works of the literature.
This disc opens with a Sonata from 1919 by the Dutch composer Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952). Bosmans was a pianist, and apparently quite a good one. She came from a musical family-her father was a cellist and her mother a pianist.
This sonata is a powerful, dark work, full of lovely, mournful melody and somber color. It's written in a post-Romantic style that doesn’t break much new ground for its time, but it’s committed, passionate music. The first movement, in particular, sounds like what Rachmaninoff would have written like if he was more like Fauré.
It's a good piece, with plenty of difficult work for both players, and it would make an attractive addition to the usual run of Beethoven and Brahms on the standard cello recital program.
The second selection on the disc is the Cello Sonata No. 1, Op. 46, of the French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), written in 1857, is a fine work, skillfully and elegantly composed.
It's redolent of Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny), Schumann and Beethoven, and idiomatically written for both instruments. The slow second movement has some nice harmonic surprises that add a touch of pathos to its serene beauty.
Last up is the Passacaglia on an Old English Tune by the English violist and composer Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979). This is an arrangement for cello of a viola original, and a good piece it is. Clarke was a real talent whose work should be played more often; her Viola Sonata is a masterful piece that always goes over well with audiences.
The majority of classical music has been composed by men, but there are many more women writers active these days (and here's a wiki list of the better-known names of the past centuries), and it won’t be too much longer before a great woman composer’s music enters the canon (Ellen Taaffe Zwilich? Kaija Saariaho? Sofia Gubaidulina?).
In the meantime, there are other composers besides the two who I'm guessing are most performed – America’s Amy Beach and France’s Camille Chaminade - whose work should be programmed more frequently, and this cello disc makes a good case for them.
This disc has spurred my interest in hearing more music by these writers - in particular the later music of Bosmans, which apparently underwent quite a stylistic switch in the late 1920s. For now, this disc serves as a good introduction, and I’m grateful to Iris van Eck for sending it along.