Compositrices review — five stars for survey of French women composers


Who now remembers Rita Strohl, Virginie Morel, Clémence de Grandval, Hedwige Chrétien or Marie-Foscarine Damaschino? The discoveries come tumbling forth, as if there is no limit to the neglected women composers who could be included in this ambitious project.

Over the past decade, Bru Zane has been championing a rediscovery of forgotten French romantic music, especially operas, but here it has excelled itself. Across eight discs, more than 165 works provide a wide-angle panorama of the achievements of French women composers in the period 1800-1920.

There are some real discoveries. Among the works getting their first recordings are Charlotte Sohy’s passionately heated Symphony in C sharp minor, the seductive salon music of Jeanne Danglas’s L’Amour s’éveille and La Sirène, a dramatic scene for three singers and orchestra by famed teacher Nadia Boulanger, showing she could compose with the best of them. New light is shone on composers such as Cécile Chaminade and Pauline Viardot.

Although the orchestral works will attract the most attention, the selection includes chamber music, notably a fine Piano Trio by Louise Farrenc, piano solos and many songs. A recital of delicately sensuous melodies by Augusta Holmès, Marthe Bracquemond, Madeleine Lemariey and others, exquisitely sung by tenor Cyrille Dubois with effortless forays into the vocal stratosphere, is a high point. A run of children’s piano pieces and easy piano duets, though, outstays its welcome.

Performances range from good to excellent. The accompanying notes are thorough. Of the 21 composers here, most are little known. All deserve to be known better.


Compositrices: New Light on French Romantic Women Composers’ is released by Palazzetto Bru Zane



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