Mel Bonis: Piano Quartets

Mozart Piano Quartet

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Mel Bonis: Piano Quartets Review

by Mike D. Brownell

The pseudonym Mel Bonis was used to obscure the gender of the post-Romantic French composer, known in her lifetime by her married name, Melanie Domange. Like other women of her generation, and indeed generations before and after, Bonis' musical gifts were only grudgingly encouraged in her younger years. Her attendance at the Paris Conservatoire was totally unprecedented, although she quickly proved herself just as talented as many of her male counterparts who, at the time, included the likes of Claude Debussy. Although she composed to some degree throughout most of her adult lifetime, her forced marriage greatly reduced her creative output; after her husband's death, she attempted to re-enter the musical scene but with only occasional success. The two piano quartets heard on this album represent the two ends of her creative output. The first was written between 1900 and 1905, the second in 1927. Her compositional style, while obviously influenced by Franck, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, and the other "big boys" of the Parisian musical scene, Bonis was not afraid to go out on her own and create her own voice. Her colorful use of harmony, independence of voices (particularly the viola), and textural palate are all entirely unique. Performing these rarely heard contributions is the Mozart Piano Quartet. Although there are occasionally some intonation problems (particularly high in the violin's register), the performance is quite solid and insightful, demonstrating a clear understanding of the score.

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