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CD booklet
Jean Papineau-Couture: Quatuors 1-4 et Trio Slanò

March 3, 2017

« Le jeu énergique et dense des Molinari assure à l'ensemble une très belle tenue.» - Diapason

To read the full review in French, click HERE

MusicWeb International
February 20, 2017

 I recently reviewed a CD from Atma Classique of the complete string quartets by György Kurtág (review). They were given thrilling performances by the Canadian Quatuor Molinari. Having an inquisitive mind and always eager to delve into the music of less-well-known composers, I was eager to explore their new release of the complete string quartets of Jean Papineau-Couture, a name I’ve never come across before. He hailed from Montreal and was the grandson of conductor and composer Guillaume Couture. He started learning the piano, but soon realized he had a strong inclination to compose. A government grant enabled him to relocate to Boston, USA to study composition with Quincy Porter and piano with Beveridge Webster at the New England Conservatory. A year later he joined Nadia Boulanger’s class at the Longy School of Music, also in Boston. An encounter with Igor Stravinsky proved decisive, as the older composer was to have a profound influence on the young man’s later music. In 1945 Papineau-Couture returned to Québec, immersing himself in academia: he joined the faculty of the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal and later taught in the Faculty of Music at the Université de Montréal becoming vice-dean in 1967 and dean in 1968 until 1973. He achieved many prestigious awards along the way.

Throughout his compositional career, Papineau-Couture’s style changed markedly. His early works show the influence of French composers of the early twentieth century, with their neo-classical bent having echoes of Poulenc and Stravinsky. As he developed, he was careful to avoid serialism, instead embracing chromaticism, but without systematizing the twelve semitones of the octave. He turned to the writings of Paul Hindemith for inspiration and, with time, his music became more sparsely textured. A traversal of the four quartets, spanning the years 1953-1996, offers an overview of this evolution.

The String Quartet No. 1 bears a dedication to the Spivak Quartet, who premiered it in December 1953. Scored in two contrasting movements, the first is melancholic in mood, and it's underlying solemn tread gives it a weighed-down feeling. Things lighten up in the movement which follows, with its spiky, neo-classical rhythm and buoyant pace. When the composer came to write his Second Quartet, fourteen years later, he had come a long way compositionally. Dedicated to his teacher Nadia Boulanger, it is fashioned in four movements. I was amazed how daring the harmonies have become, and how dissonant sounding it is. The string effects are very potent, with harmonics and glissandi adding some ravishing colour. It calls for formidable technical skill from the players; the Quatuor Molinari meet the challenges head-on with breathtaking virtuosity. Stravinsky shows his hand in the second movement, the down-bow ostinatos very reminiscent of The Rite of Spring. The strumming pizzicatos in the third movement are very engaging.

Quartets 3 and 4 are one-movement designs. No. 3 dates from 1996, and was premiered that same year by the Morency Quartet. There's an awareness that the composer is breaking new ground, as there's a sparseness not heard in the previous quartets. Two-voice combinations and 'brief solo excursions' all help lighten the texture. The work anticipates the Fourth Quartet, which was only discovered in 2016 amongst papers donated to the Québec branch of the Canadian Music Centre by the composer's daughter. Again, leanness is a feature, with the contrapuntal writing impressively accomplished.

The Slanò String Trio, composed in 1975 and premiered a year later by the Stradivarius Trio, garnered much critical acclaim at its inception. Again a one movement work, Papineau-Couture explores instrumental colour, utilizing shimmering tremolos, glissandi and pizzicatos.

The Quatuor Molinari was founded in 1997 by its first violinist Olga Ranzenhofer. It takes its name from the Canadian abstract artist Guido Molinari. Based in Montreal, their focus is on performing twentieth and twenty-first century music, commissioning new works and programming their native composers. They are served well in terms of sound and balance, with the acoustic of the Église Saint-Augustin sympathetic to clarity of instrumental lines.

All told, these attractive quartets are given stylishly and vital performances. They are an immensely rewarding discovery.

Stephen Greenbank - MusicWeb International

The WholeNote
November 28, 2016

I grew up understanding that John Weinzweig was the “Dean of Canadian Composers” but in my formative years came to the realization that, as with so many things Canadian, there are Two Solitudes and that Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000) was “The Dean” in La Belle Province. He was born into one of the most distinguished Quebec families and his forebears include the statesman Louis-Joseph Papineau and the composer Guillaume Couture, who was his paternal grandfather. As a matter of fact Papineau-Couture was named in honour of his grandfather’s masterwork, the oratorio Jean le Précurseur, John the Baptist.

There are many parallels between the two “deans.” After studies at home in Toronto, Weinzweig went to the USA to study at the Eastman School and Papineau-Couture left his native Montreal to attend the New England Conservatory and later studied with the iconic Nadia Boulanger who spent the war years in America. Both moved back to Canada to establish careers as composers and university professors. They were founding members of the Canadian League of Composers (CLC) and the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) and enjoyed a friendly rivalry over the decades. I had the pleasure of meeting Papineau-Couture on several occasions and the privilege of interviewing him for my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s. He was a charming man and a generous soul, a fierce champion of the rights of artists and staunch defender of serious culture. He was also an active administrator serving as the president of the CLC, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec and the Canadian Music Council, dean of the music faculty at the Université de Montréal and the director of the Montreal office of the CMC.

I was delighted when I heard that Quatuor Molinari was recording his complete music for string quartet along with the string trio Slanó (ATMA ACD2 2751). And even more delighted to find that in addition to the String Quartets 1 and 2 with which I was familiar, there was a third from 1996 and an incomplete fourth recently found among his papers. So we are effectively presented with works spanning nearly half a century and all the periods of his mature career. String Quartet No.1 dates from 1953 and shows the influence of French composers of the early 20th century. By the centennial year when he composed String Quartet No.2, although eschewing the serial school of composition, he was exploring an expanded tonality using all 12 tones. It is the string trio from 1975 that is the most experimental, with its elaborate use of extended techniques and layering of timbres. Quartet No.3 is a one-movement work which presents a sense of stylistic transition, moving away from the somewhat abrasive world of the string trio, embracing a certain lushness while at the same time approaching the sparse lyricism with which we are presented in the posthumous final work. Although unfinished, I must say that it does not give the impression of being incomplete.

This is a wonderful retrospective of one of our most important composers on the occasion of his centennial and it includes two world premiere recordings. Kudos to founding first violinist Olga Ranzenhofer and the members of the Molinari Quartet for their ongoing commitment to the music of our time through recordings of some of the most significant works of the last half century and their efforts to develop new repertoire with the Molinari International Composition Competition, the sixth of which took place in 2015. Praise is also due to the designers of the attractive and informative package which includes some wonderful photos of Papineau-Couture throughout his life, from an adolescent in a sailor suit through to the pensive, but ever-smiling, grand old man.

David Olds – The WholeNote

Blog: Music for Several Instruments
October 22, 2016

2016 is the centennial year for a number of composers, notably Alberto Ginastera and Milton Babbitt. I hadn't heard anything about celebrations for Jean Papineau-Couture, who was born in Montreal on November 12, 1916, until this new ATMA Classique disc came along. It's an important release from the Quatuor Molinari, who I know from their excellent Kurtag, Gubaidulina and Schnittke albums for ATMA.

Papineau-Couture studied with Quincy Porter at the New England Conservatory, and then with (you guessed it!) Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Boulanger connected him with Stravinsky, and the two got along well. There's a 1944-45 photo in the liner notes of Papineau-Couture and his wife with the Stravinskys and Boulanger at Feather Hill Ranch, Montecito, California. You can hear Stravinsky's influence and the sound of modernist Paris in P-C's 1st Quartet from 1953. By the time of his second quartet in 1967 he's still resisting the siren sound of 12-tone music, but he's definitely moving in that direction. Incidentally, the piece was written in celebration of Canada's Centennial and Boulanger's 80th birthday. The most advanced work in that regard is the string trio Slanò from 1973, which has a complex, experimental sound. Both the 3rd quartet from 1996 and the 4th quartet, unfinished at his death in 2000, have a spare sound, and hearken back to early music. This is a valuable release (coming November 4, 2016). For more information on this appealing composer, visit the Papineau-Couture page at the indispensable Canadian Music Centre website.

Dean Frey – Blog: Music for Several Instruments