1919: Boulanger | Janáček | Elgar | Debussy

The 1910s were a period of extraordinary turbulence and change. Revolutions and war left monarchies and empires fallen and the social order irreversibly altered. The music on this album emerges from various points in that eventful decade, but all of it records vividly a world that was shortly to vanish forever – a world to which the year 1919 was already a coda.

Indeed, the pieces chosen by Benjamin Baker and Daniel Lebhardt for their second Delphian recording also speak from a decade of musical endings. Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger both died in 1918, two extraordinary careers cut short early; Baker and Lebhardt’s programme includes some of their last works. Edward Elgar lived on for another fifteen years, but wrote little more to match the four major compositions which emerged from his pen in 1918 and 1919.

Leoš Janáček, by contrast, was about to enter an astonishing Indian summer of creativity; his violin sonata stands on the cusp, inspired by Janáček’s hopes that the war might lead to independence for his beloved Czech lands.

"a stunning new album ... it’s an enticing collection of highly expressive music, inspired by the composers’ personal circumstances within wider geo-political unrest .. Playing Debussy’s subtle music with loving care, Baker and Lebhardt offer marvellous variety of tone and pace through many twists and turns, characterful fragments dropping like flashes of light into darker textures ... In playing ranging from delicate to dramatic, Baker and Lebhardt find the essence of Boulanger’s deliciously French style ... Finally we cross the Channel to the open English sounds and harmonies and the forthright expression of Elgar. Baker and Lebhardt, like the composer, let it all unfold luxuriously. Emotions, occasionally wistful, are close to the surface. These versatile musicians, listening acutely to each other, maintain their expressive accord to the end of a deeply satisfying album"

Elizabeth Kerr - read her full review here

"The works on this intimately recorded album move in wildly differing circles. Elgar’s wistful Romanticism contrasts with the exotic soundworlds of Debussy’s Sonata and Boulanger’s sprightly miniature. Janáček looks to the future with bold colours and spiky rhythms coupled with a sense of unease. Violinist Benjamin Baker and pianist Daniel Lebhardt perform each work with consummate skill and an unalloyed passion"

"Three violin sonatas from early in the 20th century, by Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar and Leoš Janáček, peaks of the repertoire, are the focus of 1919: Coda (Delphian), a recital by the New Zealand-born violinist Benjamin Baker and his Hungarian duo partner, the pianist Daniel Lebhardt. Europe was on the brink of wholesale change in the aftermath of the first world war. This is the mood, rather than any date-specific reasons, captured by the album’s title: a coda to a vanishing existence.

All three sonatas are mature works, each a beguiling union of wistful restraint and sweeping passion. Debussy and Elgar were reaching the end of their careers; Janáček went on to a rich late flowering. Lili Boulanger died in 1918 but, aged only 24, her life had barely begun. Three pieces by her, including D’un matin de printemps, give poignant contrast. Baker and Lebhardt, who listen and respond to each other precisely and sensitively, are ideal and impassioned guides"


"The end of a turbulent decade, and listening to the music you can hear a world illuminated that was about to vanish ... powerful and poignant, the sound of music on the edge of something new - Janacek wrote it as World War One was breaking out. He's in good company. Lili Boulanger and Claude Debussy died in 1918, and some of Elgar's finest late music was from the end of the war. Three excellent sonatas played with passion and understanding here, making for a compelling recital. It puts us into the sound of Europe emerging into a different world"


" By 1919, two of the named composers were dead and a third was worn out. Only Leos Janacek was firing on all cylinders – indeed, on more cylinders than he ever had before. If 1919 was a benchmark, it is not evident from their lifecycles. However, the year does mark an end-point for the war era and these sonatas exist in that immediate past, with no thought of present or future ... Bringing these disparities to life are two UK-based musicians, the New Zealand violinist Benjamin Baker and the Hungarian pianist Daniel Lebhardt. If they strive a little too hard for conventional beauty in Janacek, their austerity is perfect for Debussy and Elgar, evoking a restrained sympathy for these morbid confessions The playing is marvellously poised, an exemplary concept album aptly adapted to each composer’s circumstances and individuality. Baker and Lebhardt tell four very human stories, each of them flawed. I was on the edge of my seat throughout."

La Scena Musicale

read the full review here

"Janáček’s Sonata, inspired by reports of the Russian army’s early successful advances, more obviously reflects the War. Pianist Daniel Lebhardt is excellent throughout ... In the Elgar Baker refrains from self-conscious point making, and this, along with Lili Boulanger’s unpretentious and diverting three pieces, receives the most successful performance here"


'In this stimulating new Delphian release, violinist Benjamin Baker and pianist Daniel Lebhardt explore the fruits of an amazing decade in European music, the 1910s. Still active were the divergent figures of Debussy (died 1918), Elgar and Janáček with the tragic young French genius, Lili Boulanger, biting at their heels. Like Debussy, Boulanger died in 1918, but at the cruelly young age of 24. The album title, 1919 – Coda, alludes to the collective nature of the tracklist, a snapshot cross-section of contrasting European voices. Baker and Lebhardt find treasure in every example. They are exquisite in the jousting wistfulness, bright optimism and gentle whimsy of Debussy’s late Sonata; fresh and eager in expounding the easeful Gallic passion of Boulanger’s Two Pieces and D’un matin de printemps. They open exuberantly with Janáček’s robust 1914 Sonata and end with the rich Romantic sweep of Elgar’s 1918 Sonata Op 82'


Release Date: 26 May 2023
Catalogue No: DCD34288
Total playing time: 1:06:48

Recorded on 7-9 June 2022 at Ayriel Studios, Whitby

Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital editing: Jack Davis
24-bit digital mastering: Paul Baxter
Piano: Steinway model D, serial no 550675 (2000)
Piano technician: Aidan Delacey-Simms

Front & back cover photography © Kaupo Kikkas
Design: John Christ
Booklet editor: John Fallas
Session photography: foxbrushfilms.com


Prokofiev – Copland – Poulenc

Benjamin Baker & Daniel Lebhardt's first album on Delphian...


Benjamin and Dan perform the opening movement of Janáček’s firey sonata for violin and piano during recording sessions...  

Album Booklet

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