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The Sonata in A-Major for Cello and Piano Opus 20 is Magnard's last chamber music piece, and even the penultimate work we possess, the twelve Poemes en Musique (on poems by And re Chenier and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore) having disappeared with his burning house in Baron. Alongside with the Fourth Symphony Opus 21, it remains as a witness to a kind of "third manner" tragically cut short. Just as the Violin Sonata, it followed the completion of an opera, in this case, Berenice. It was probably begun towards the end of 1909, and it kept Magnard for almost a year. When the piece was premiered on 25 February 1911 at the Societe Nationale, he was already working on his Fourth Symphony. Both pieces are harsher, more vigorous, concentrated and fully liberated from outer influences, in short, more "modern" than his previous works. The Sonata is the shortest and most compact of all his intrumental pieces, the one heralding Roussel's late works written a quarter of a century later. The four movements show a tonal scheme of absolute logic and clarity, and even the third movement's b-flat minor/major in Neapolitan sixth relationship to the principal key, is naturally brought about by the d-minor of the Scherzo. Magnard definitely gives up any textual return of cyclic themes here replaced by a more secret unity on the biological level of an initial cell. This is heard from the very first bar, a simple interval of minor and major second capable of growing to an octave especially in the slow movement.
The first movement, Sans lenteur (Without slackening) is Magnard's only sonata-form in which the singing theme is exposed before the rhythmic "masculine" theme, the only one too, where these rough and Jerky accents are followed by a third idea, whose pure lyrical surge seems to incarnate the "eternal feminine". The development mainly consists of a fugue on a long subject, both capricious and twirling, stemming from one of the "masculine" elements. The very short Scherzo, Sans Faiblir (Without faltering) is first given over entirely to pure rhythm of an a/ready Strawinskian savagery like the Scherzo in the Fourth Symphony. Its somber, stubborn and feverish stamping gives onto a Trio in modal D-Major (myxolydian) of a strange and poetic hue, an expression of the "dream folklore" so characteristic of Magnard. But the piece ends by plunging into darkness, leading without a break into Funebre (Funereal) the slow movement and expressive core of the Sonata. Virile and noble in its sadness, but not without tenderer accents, this magnificent piece unfolds into a broad sonata-form with no central development, but tending to the Lied-form in five sections by the importance given to the first idea's last return in the final development. This first group itself consists of two contrasting elements : a dark procession and a brusque gesture of revolt. The gentler, second idea, goes into 3/4 time, and the piece ends in a quiet mood. Called Rondement, (Briskly) the spirited Finale is entirely given over to action, even in its most full-throated melodic places. It is again in sonata-form a/though the brusque, jagged main theme, with its imperious rhythmic gesture, an epitome of Magnard's personality, returns like a rondo refrain. Magnard victoriously resisted the temptation of making a fugue subject of it : we may safely bet he might have succumbed a few years earlier !...
The Promenades Opus 7, the last and most important of Magnard's works for piano solo, were written as early as 1893, at the time of the Second Symphony, but were only played for the first time eighteen years later, when they were premiered by Blanche Selva at the Concerts Durand on 15 March 1911, less than three weeks after the premiere of the Cello Sonata. Magnard here reveals his most cheerful and accessible side; these evocations of the countryside surrounding Paris are in fact just as many breaks in a lover's itinerary : Magnard dedicated them to his future wife, Julia Creton. The initial Envoi, short and dream-like, which Magnard marked "Tender", depicts the Beloved, and its theme will be found later, sometimes extremely modified, in some of the six following Promenades ; it is instantly perceived in Bois de Boulogne, where the first encounter took place, a piece with an elegant "waltz" rhythm alternating with a bouncing idea that Magnard marked "trim". As a complete contrast, Villebon suggests some mysterious evocation veiled in mist, in the form of a Chorale followed by three variations, finishing however in the radiance of a powerful climax. Saint-Cloud is a model of a Magnardian Scherzo, a muscular and spirited dance temporarily interrupted by a slow Trio of full-blooded melody. Saint-Germain, one of the most beautiful forests near Paris, suggests a halt : marked Amoureusement (Lovingly) this moment spent amidst the langou-rous undergrowth offers us luminous evocations of sunshine playing through the foliage and which are one of the secrets of Magnard's palette, showing him in a more sensuous and impressionistic mood than usual. Trianon where we again find the Envoi theme in modified form, is a gracious three-part fugue, surrounded by a few slow bars. Finally, Rambouillet is the pretext of a much longer halt than the preceeding, and the indication "Nuptial" tells us why. This tranquil and serene piece fits into the framework of a free sonata-form punctuated by distant bugle calls which are as many allusions to a real-life experience. And this piece wrapped in halftones ends in the loving calm of the initial Envoi, which closes the cycle. The two works gathered on this record complete each other and make up a real portrait of Magnard the man and artist.
-Harry Halbreich (translated by Elisabeth Buzzard)