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André Mathieu : Musique de chambre

Classical Lost and found
27 septembre 2019

Several outstanding releases featuring modern day Canadian composers have appeared in these pages over the past couple of years (see 31 March 2018), and here's another with some delightful chamber works by André Mathieu (1929-1968). He was born in Montreal, Quebec, and both parents taught music. Not only that, his father was a pianist-composer, and Mom played the cello. An extremely precocious child, young André received his first music lessons from Dad. He began composing when he was only four and gave a recital of his own pieces at six (1935). What's more, the very next year Mathieu performed his recently completed Concertino No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra on the CBC. And not long thereafter, he was given a government grant that allowed him to study in Paris, where he'd spend the next couple of years. Mathieu went back to Montreal in late 1939, ostensibly for the holidays. But the outbreak of World War II (1939-45) prevented his return to Europe, so he concertized in Canada and the US until the war's end. Then André once again took up residence in Paris for further academic training, but psychological as well as financial difficulties resulted in his going home at age eighteen (1947). Over the next few years, he'd take up teaching and concentrate on composing. However, his mental state gradually deteriorated, and he eventually succumbed to alcoholism, which lead to his untimely death at the age thirty-nine. Mathieu left a good number of works, mostly in the solo piano and chamber music genres, and a sampling of those in the latter category fill out this release. Some of them appeared on CDs many years ago coupled with "Warhorses" by other, well-known composers. Now, we get an album completely devoted to him, where four of the seven selections are the only currently available recordings on disc. These are accordingly marked "OCAR" after their titles. The program begins with two short pieces for violin and piano, both dating from his last year in Paris (1946). The first Fantasie Brésilienne (Brazilian Fantasy; OCAR) [T-1] is a dancelike tidbit. Here a couple of catchy, Latin-American-flavored tunes are bandied about, and it may remind you of Milhaud's (1892-1974) Saudades do Brasil (Fond Remembrances of Brazil, 1920-21). Then the mood turns sensuous in Désir (Desire; OCAR) [T-2], which was never published. It has impressionistic, seductive outer passages wrapped around a brief, lascivious, "bump-and-grind" number [02:49-03:27]. André wrote some of his best music in the 1943-53 timeframe, and the Piano Quintet of 1953 is one of his finest works. In two movements, the first "Allegro" [T-3] begins with a compelling motif (CM) that undergoes eight diverse treatments. The first five are sequentially lyrical, wistful, anxious, troubled and romantically sweeping in the manner of Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) piano concertos (1891-1941) (RS) [03:42]. After that, there's a flighty sixth succeeded by a mysteriously celestial penultimate one. This turns into an insistent eighth, which ends the movement nostalgically. An "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast with fire") [T-4] brings the work to a spirited conclusion, and opens with an extended, antsy motif. It goes through four developmental phases, the first being chromatically frenetic and having overtones of Ravel's (1875-1937) Piano Concertos (1929-31). Then there are a couple of rhapsodic ones with a repeat of RS [05:02], which is followed by an excited fourth that ends the Quintet in the same spirit it began. Moving back some ten years, we get the Ballade-Fantaisie (1942; OCAR) for violin and piano [T-5]. A theme with variations, this opens with a romantic, relaxed main subject (MS), which is repeated, and followed by an excited variant (VE). The latter gives way to respectively yearning (VY) and capricious ones that are each played twice. Then after a short pause we get a retiring transformation and succeeding, lullaby-like treatment. This is followed by the return of VE as well as VY, and subsequently, Mathieu dishes up a violin cadenza something like what you might hear the lead fiddler play at an Appalachian country hoedown. Then the piano jumps in, ending this piece with an impish "So there!" cadence. The composer's three-movement, Sonata for Violin and Piano (1944) is next, and opens "Allegro presto" ("Extremely fast") [T-6] with a cheeky, curvaceous, Gallic-sounding ditty (CG). This undergoes a pensive development with twittering passages that bridge into a curt, CG-based coda. It recalls the opening measures and brings the movement to a pensive conclusion. An interim "Largo" [T-7] has alternating "A" and "B" sections, which stylistically compete with one another. Moreover, the "A"s feature a comely, peripatetic tune with folksong overtones, while the "B"s are built on an impressionistic idea, having mystic moments like those in the music of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). In the end, the "A"s win out, and the movement wanes peacefully away. It's immediately succeeded by a tiny, final "Allegretto" ("Lively") [T-8] that gets off to a twitchy, ostinato, piano start, followed by a CG-reminiscent, Eastern-tinged tune for the violin. The latter is explored and CG resurfaces [01:54], ending the Sonata full circle. Our concert continues with two more pieces for violin and piano written a year later (1945). The first titled Complainte (Lament; OCAR) is a duo reworking of the second movement from André's symphonic suite titled Scènes de ballet (1938-45). It's a chromatically adventurous ternary miniature with outer sections based on a comely, graceful melody, wrapped around a shimmering, Scriabinesque episode. The other one is an unpublished selection that's a recent reconstruction by a couple of Canadian musicologists based on some manuscript fragments. Called Nocturne (OCAR) [T-10], it takes the form of an impressionistic, character piece haunted by the ghosts of Ravel and once again Scriabin. This CD closes with Mathieu's Piano Trio of 1947, which is the most progressive work here and arguably his chamber masterpiece. In two movements the initial "Andante" ("Slow") [T-11] opens with a rapturous melody intoned by the cello (RM) [00:00], that's soon embraced by the piano and violin. This is followed by a couple of related countersubjects, and the foregoing thematic material is explored. Then there's a harmonically inventive development, which waxes and wanes into a pensive episode that ends the movement with a feeling of somber detachment. The closing "Andante, allegro con fuoco" ("Slow, fast with fire") [T-12] is a rondoesque set of inventive, RM-based, thoughts of different temperament. Here an initial, wistful rumination [00:00] is succeeded by ten more, the first five ranging from frantic to insistent, fragmented, searching and anxious. Subsequently, there are questioning, contemplative, melancholy, amorous and keening ones. Then the work's opening is recapped as the cello plays RM [06:47]., which soon engenders an RM-derived, virtuosic coda that ends the Trio and this CD excitedly. The all Canadian cast featured here includes pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre along with violinists Marc Djokic (Fantaisie..., Quintet, Ballade..., Trio), Andréa Tyniec (Désir, Quintet, Sonata, Complainte, Nocturne), violist Elvira Misbakhova (Quintet) and cellist Chloé Dominguez (Quintet, Trio). They deliver moving accounts of some captivating works by a child prodigy, who's been called "the Canadian Mozart". The recordings were made in September of 2018 at Salle Raoul-Jobin in the Palais Montcalm (Montcalm Palace), Quebec, Canada. They present an appropriately sized sonic image in warm, slightly reverberant surroundings with the instruments well captured and balanced against one another. The piano is lifelike with just the right amount of percussive bite, while the strings are natural sounding except for an occasional steely spot. Everything considered, this disc will have great appeal for romantic chamber music lovers and should meet with the approval of any audiophiles among them.

American Record Guide
18 septembre 2019

The Quebecois pianist-composer Andre Mathieu (1929-68) battled alcoholism, which caused his early death. The liner notes identify three style periods and note that the second, from 1943 to 1953, was the most productive; all these works come from those years. His style reminds me of Ravel with a pop music accent; the melodies are abundant and charming. They often seem to unfold in a rhapsodic manner (the arch form of the Brazilian Fantasy and the thematic recall at the end of the violin sonata are exceptions). In general, the larger chamber works fare best—the boundless melodies are accompanied by harmonies that are a bit murkier but still tonally oriented and impressionist. But even then, the works are not very long, usually around 15 minutes. All of the performances are technically brilliant and musical, with sensitive and intelligent phrasing. The sound is fine.

© 2019 American Record Guide 

The WholeNote
28 août 2019

The turbulent life of the pianist and composer André Mathieu (1929–68) began in triumph and ended in tragedy. This son of professional musicians was hailed as “the Mozart of Québec” at his Parisian debut in 1936 but ultimately faded into in a haze of alcoholism and obscurity, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 39. It is perhaps not surprising that Mathieu’s resolutely post-Romantic style, heavily influenced by Scriabin and Debussy and profoundly melodic and episodic by nature, was disdained in the new music circles of the 1960s. It is largely due to the advocacy of the Québécois pianist-composer Alain Lefèvre, a champion of Mathieu’s piano concertos, that his reputation has been restored in our post-modern era.

The album features Mathieu’s eight chamber works from the middle of the 20th century, the era of his finest compositions. It includes a selection of compact duets for violin and piano featuring pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with violinists Mark Djokic and Andréa Tyniec alternating as soloists. Tyniec (who dazzled Toronto recently performing Ana Sokolović’s violin concerto for New Music Concerts) lays claim to the enjoyable though discursive Violin Sonata. Of particular interest are the Quintette for piano and string quartet and the Trio for violin, cello and piano, two substantial works in which Mathieu exceeds himself in the mastery of large-scale forms. The performances are uniformly excellent and production values are top notch.

Daniel Foley - The WholeNote


ICI Musique
31 mai 2019

ATMA Classique fait paraître ce printemps un bouquet musical regroupant de splendides musiques de chambre d’André Mathieu. Les sélections telles que revues par le pianiste Jean-Philippe Sylvestre et les quatre virtuoses des cordes qu’il a réunis pourraient d’ailleurs se comparer à une plante vivace : c’est-à-dire une merveille que l’on veut constamment voir prendre vie.

Sur cet album, Jean-Philippe Sylvestre a réuni des chambristes de haut calibre : Marc Djokic, premier violon de l'Orchestre classique de Montréal (autrefois l'Orchestre de chambre McGill); la violoniste Andréa Tyniec, qui mène une carrière de soliste; Elvira Misbakhova, alto solo associée à l’Orchestre métropolitain de Montréal, à l’Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières de même qu’à celui de Longueuil; et Chloé Dominguez, violoncelle solo de l’Orchestre classique de Montréal et de l’Ensemble contemporain de Montréal.

Une musique de chambre tout sauf soporifique
Si vous n’êtes pas initiés au concept de « musique de chambre », n’allez pas croire que l’on a affaire ici à une chambre où l’on sommeille. Bien au contraire, dans cette sélection, la musique d’André Mathieu nous emmène dans un univers où l’on est constamment stimulé : changements de dynamique, changements de tempo, lignes mélodiques surprenantes et des harmonies juste assez tendues. L’exécution des musiciens y est pour beaucoup aussi. Il n’y a qu’à constater leur Fantaisie brésilienne parfaitement sautillante. Leur synchronicité et leur fluidité sont particulièrement remarquables dans le Quintette, dont l’Allegro nous transporte dans des lieux peu communs et dont le Con fuoco brûle tantôt avec tendresse, tantôt avec vivacité, mais toujours avec chaleur.

Jean-Philippe Sylvestre connaît André Mathieu depuis l’âge de 13, pour avoir participé au documentaire de Jean-Claude Labrecque André Mathieu, musicien. Il l’a mis de côté un certain temps pour enfin retomber amoureux de l’œuvre de celui qui avait été surnommé « le Mozart québécois ». Sur cet album, Jean-Philippe Sylvestre nous fait le plaisir de la découverte : deux pièces inédites d’André Mathieu, soit Désir et Nocturne. Qui de mieux placé pour le faire que Jean-Philippe Sylvestre, lui qui a aussi déjà enregistré des concertos d’André Mathieu en compagnie d’Alain Trudel et l’Orchestre métropolitain? 

André Mathieu : musique de chambre nous permet de découvrir ou de redécouvrir une facette intimiste de l’œuvre de ce compositeur postromantique longtemps oublié dans le paysage de la musique classique au Canada. Alain Lefèvre n’est donc plus le seul à défendre le riche legs du génie musical. Sylvestre en particulier, mais aussi les Dominguez, Misbakhova, Tyniec et Djokic sont également de dignes porteurs du flambeau.

Frédéric Cardin - ICI Musique