Who Was Henriëtte Bosmans?


BOSMANS: Violin Sonata. Arietta for Violin & Piano. Piano Trio / Solarek Piano Trio: Marina Solarek, vln; Miriam Lowbury, cel; Andrew Bottrill, pno / Toccata Classics TOCC 0654

Toccata Classics, one of the more adventurous classical labels, specializes in issuing recordings of music by little-known or once-famous-but-now-neglected composers. Some of them are just late Romantic music of a type I definitely shy away from, while some others—primarily the modern composers—are not all that creative or interesting to me, but when they hit the jackpot they hit it big.

Henriëtte Bosmans (1896-1952) is clearly an obscure figure, a Dutch-Jewish composer born in Amsterdam in December 1895 and growing up in a musical family. Her mother was a concert pianist and a teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory, while her father first cello in the famed Concertgebouw Orchestra, though he died when Henriëtte was only eight years old. Henriëtte also became a concert pianist, making her debut at age 19, but also began writing music at age 17—pieces for violin and piano dedicated to her mother.

This music, too, is clearly late Romantic, but there’s something in it—you might say an integrity, a resolute desire to avoid the easy melodies that characterized such pieces—that make it interesting. It is clearly well structured music, focusing on interesting themes and good development, that to my mind put it in line with the similar works of Ethel Smyth, the difference being that Smyth’s music was heavily influenced by German culture, particularly that of Brahms, whereas Bosmans’ music has a whiff of Russia about it. The first movement is surprisingly long—nearly 15 minutes—yet Bosmans managed to hold one’s interest by means of her surprising musical development as well as the peaks and valleys of dynamics changes and emotional content. At the very end of the movement, she also increased the tempo to provide a sort of energetic coda. The second movement is an almost devious-sounding scherzo in a quick 3 (possibly 6/8) rhythm, played in the minor, and here Bosmans cleverly changed the tonality subtly in places. By contrast, the slow movement is fairly uninteresting, in one ear and out the other, but it acts as a lead-in to the fourth movement, surprisingly written in a “Moderato” tempo rather than a very fast one. Here, Bosmans creates a two-voiced fugue between the violin and piano after a brief introduction by the latter instrument. After a non-fugal interlude, she slightly increases the tempo and returns to fugue-land, and a pretty nice fugue it is, too.

Sadly, I found the Piano Trio to be a fairly dull affair, formulaic, uninteresting technically, and conventionally “pretty” music. You may feel differently, but for me this music just went in one ear and out the other, leaving little impression.

The performances are good, but the recorded sound is not. It is peculiarly muffled and exceedingly dry, much different from most of Toccata Classics’ releases. It sounds as if it were recorded in a very small space with no natural reverberation around the instruments, and this may affect your appreciation of how well nuanced and occasionally intense these readings are. Worth hearing at least once, however.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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