On an intriguing disc of finely-played sonatas, the first ever recording of 18th-century French composer Hélène de Montgeroult’s A minor Sonata is a highlight. 

When men wrote the accepted history of classical music, some important women were left out. In the case of Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836), whose Sonata in A minor Op 2 No 3 gets its first recording on this intriguing new disc from violinist Sophie Rosa and pianist Ian Buckle, the omission is especially shameless: elements in the piano music of Chopin and Schumann that have long been taken as evidence of those composers’ originality can be found in the studies that make up Montgeroult’s Complete Method for Teaching Fortepiano – a collection they probably encountered as students, written by a contemporary of their grandmother.

The Complete Method is a treasure trove – and if Montgeroult’s music begs further investigation, so does her life story. She was the first female professor at the Paris Conservatoire, a friend of the author Madame de Staël and the artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and it’s claimed she escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution only because she was able to play the piano in front of the Committee for Public Safety, impressing them with a set of improvised variations on the Marseillaise.

Her A minor Sonata, published in 1800, is no violin showpiece: it’s a piano sonata with an optional violin part, and it sounds that way even in a performance as persuasive as this one, the violin largely doubling the piano or providing accompanying texture. Yet the music is sonorous and affecting, especially the slow movement, which contains moments when the violin and piano come briefly untethered in an achingly beautiful way. Montgeroult’s lifelong concern was “to make the piano sing”, and there’s a depth of invention that seems ahead of its time – certainly when compared to the cheerily slender outer movements of the Sonata No 10 in E by Montgeroult’s violin virtuoso friend Viotti, which opens the disc, or Weber’s little Sonata in G, which closes it. And it holds its own alongside the best-known work here, Mendelssohn’s Sonata Op 4. This, like everything else , is played by Rosa and Buckle with finely judged detail, expansiveness and lots of heart.


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