Olivier Greif: Sonate de Requiem; Piano Trio


Originally released in 2006, Harmonia Mundi has returned this recording of Olivier Greif's Sonate de Requiem and Piano Trio to the active catalog as part of their mid-priced HM Gold line. Not having heard the initial release, I feel fortunate that I didn't miss this powerful and moving music again, this time around. The performances by cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand, pianist Pascal Amoyel and violinist Antje Weithaas garnered high praise for the original issue.

Admitted to the Paris Conservatoire when he was ten years old, Olivier Greif (1950-2000) was an exceptionally gifted child. He was a composer with a highly individual style who followed his own path, seemingly unconcerned with the musical trends of the day. His numbered works exceed 360. A large portion of these are for solo piano and most of the rest would be classified as chamber music, including the two works on this CD.

The Sonate de Requiem Op. 283 for cello and piano was written in 1979, following the passing of the composer's mother. It is a reflection on death from three meditative viewpoints: loss of a loved one, the 'journey' of the spirit's ascent, and a contemplation on the coming together of one's soul with its Source. The piece delivers a listening experience far beyond what you might expect from the modest pairing of cello and piano. Greif accomplishes this by frequently requiring each instrumentalist to take on two or more completely different musical roles. For example, the piano might carry an airy delicate line in the upper register of the keyboard, while adding at intervals explosive tone clusters in the low register. With the cello also taking on multiple musical personalities, a density and diversity of sound is produced which suggests there is much more at play than only the two instruments.

The music is difficult to categorize. It's tonal, but freely so - not much different from what you might expect from Bartók or Shostakovich. Darkly colored, it favors minor modes. Sometimes it's modal, evocative of Far Eastern tonalities for instance. Greif makes frequent use of various techniques to produce striking gestures in sound (such as the previously mentioned explosive tone clusters). You can hear examples of this in both of the samples I've provided. The video in the right sidebar is the final Alla breve movement of the Piano Trio and the bonus video below is the opening movement of the Sonate de Requiem.

Very little of Greif's music has been recorded. I hope that the reintroduction of this Harmonia Mundi disc will spark interest in listeners to hear more, and a desire in record companies to record more of his music.

The opening movement of the Sonate de Requiem by Olivier Greif