I have always been fascinated by France, awed by its beauty, and excited by its culture, which is an intriguing mix of deep tradition and innovation. Certainly this was the case in the post-romantic era of musical development at the end of the 19th century and in the early decades of the 20th century. I am particularly engaged by works that defy easy categorization, and in this respect the French post-romantic era is rich indeed. Perhaps it follows that I am attracted to artists who were tenaciously independent in their vision. Certainly not all the music of that era fits into the influential impressionist movement, and some of the more atypical works, although extremely beautiful and worthy, have been lost in the shuffle and essentially overlooked. It is my wish to help bring these deserving works to the attention of the public.
Widor, for example, is not well-known as a composer of piano chamber music, rather, he is principally known as a prolific composer of music for the organ. Inspired by the discovery of his charming but little recognized Four Pieces for Piano, Violin and Cello, which are included on our CD, The Romantics, I thereafter researched more of this wonderful composer’s piano chamber repertoire at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. Among other gems, I discovered Widor’s Soir d’Alsace (Evenings in Alsace) for Piano Trio, which includes four beautiful pieces depicting four very different evenings in Alsace, a region in northern France where Widor spent some of his youth. Ensemble Vivant’s concert performances of Soir d’Alsace have inspired no end of requests for us to record this beautiful music. The same is true of our performances of Debussy’s Trio in G Major and Saint-Saëns’ Septet in E Flat Major.
Claude Debussy was only 18 years of age when he wrote his Trio in G Major, his only Piano Trio. This work was part of an initial outburst of creativity by the young composer and signaled his transition from performance to composition. Interestingly, the unpublished score was discovered only in 1980. This work is full of romantic references but the beginnings of his own richly impressionistic writing are in evidence. By contrast, Camille Saint-Saëns had little use for new musical forms, and cast back to pre-romantic “classical” music. This is clearly heard in his Septet in E Flat Major, nevertheless, a highly unusual work. Saint-Saëns was a long-time member of La Trompette, a performing society that had been established at the science-oriented imperial Military Academic in Paris by students who played wind instruments. In 1880, at the request of the society’s organizer, Saint-Saëns composed his Septet for trumpet, piano and strings. Debussy’s Trio and Saint-Saëns’ Septet are certainly part of the mainstream piano chamber music repertoire, but these truly glorious works deserve wider recognition.
By popular demand, Ensemble Vivant’s previous CD, Audience Favourites, includes a movement from each of Widor’s Soirs d’Alsace, Debussy’s Piano Trio in G and Saint-Saëns Septet in E Flat Major. The complete performances of each of these magnificent works are included here on Fêtes française. The creation of this unique, beautiful compilation has been exciting, and the opportunity to share these musical treasures with our audiences remains the greatest part of that thrill.
Pianist/Artistic Director of Ensemble Vivant
Fête française CD
Trio in G Major: Claude Debussy
- Andantino con Molto Allegro
- Scherzo Intermezzo
- Andante Espressivo
Soirs d’Alsace, Op. 52:
- En Route
- Ciel d’Orage
- Le Calme Renait
- Promenade Sentimentale
Septet in E Flat Major, Op. 65 for trumpet, two violins, viola, cello, bass and piano:
- Gavotte et Finale
Catherine Wilson, Piano/Artistic Director
Erica Beston, violin
Norman Hathaway, violin
Sharon Prater, cello
Dave Young, bass
With Special Guests:
Jonathan Craig, viola
Philip Seguin, trumpet
…Thanks again for a great performance and wonderful program…molti bravi to Ensemble Vivant… please have Ensemble Vivant return very soon!
de Blasiis CMS at the Hyde
Led by a remarkable pianist, Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant boasts a collection of musicians whose abilities and qualifications are second to none… a diversity of beautifully played music and sound (with vibes… Don Thompson, O.C.) from Bach to Piazzolla to Widor… wonderful interpretations… highlight of the Kelowna Community Concert Association series. I had the pleasure of spending time with the group after the concert and they are a fun, humble and inspiring group of musicians… such tremendous mutual talent and respect within the ensemble… Merci Ensemble Vivant!
musician, composer for B.C. Arts
Beautiful, poised performances…reveal the deep musicianship and light interpretive touch of these Toronto-based musicians led by pianist Catherine Wilson.