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Montgeroult: Piano Sonatas

Nicolas Horvath (piano) (Grand Piano)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Piano Sonatas
Nicolas Horvath (piano)
Grand Piano GP885-86   156:41 mins (2 discs)


The written and recorded history of the piano sonata has focused on male exponents, but that is not the whole story. Women wrote sonatas too. One who made an important contribution to the genre was Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836), a French composer and pianist whose nine piano sonatas are brought together for the first time in this new two-disc set from pianist Nicolas Horvath. Several are premiere recordings.

So far, so promising. The sonatas fall into three groups, giving the chronological programme a natural shape. The first set was published in 1795, in the wake of the French Revolution, during which the aristocratic Montgeroult had found herself playing to save her life – quite literally. It’s said she escaped the guillotine after she improvised variations on La Marseillaise, convincing a tribunal to spare her from death. Appointed as the first female professor at the Paris Conservatoire, her Op. 1 then came out, featuring three two-movement sonatas full of spirit and elan. Five years later, a second set followed, firmly in the Classical style.

Horvath plays a modern Steinway, but, mindful of the fortepiano on which Montgeroult herself would have played, performs these works with a light, highly articulated sound. It’s effective enough, but there’s something missing. Montgeroult was renowned for her cantabile playing; the artist Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, who once painted the pianist-composer, noted that ‘she made the keys speak’. Here, the music too often neither speaks nor sings. It’s the last three sonatas of 1811 – reaching out into the Romantic era, eloquently performed here by Horvath – which come off best.


Rebecca Franks