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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1904)
Piano Trio in C minor (1891) [40.47]
Arthur de GREEF (1862-1940)
Piano Trio in F minor (1935) [21.55]
Piano Trio Narziss und Goldmund
rec. Academiezaal, Sint Truiden, July 2005
PHAEDRA 92046 [62.42]

 

This unusual coupling represents volume 46 - it’s not just Hyperion … - in Phaedra’s In Flanders’ Fields series. Adherents of the overlooked, obscure and downright under-appreciated will have their appetites whetted by the promotional details contained in the booklet of this disc, which lists them all. Fans of Jongen, Benoit, Meulemans (Arthur and Herman) and such as de Boeck and de Blockx will have occasion to rue their limited income when confronted by the rich variety of things on offer. An excellent catalogue.

But to business with this almost-latest; I see volume 47 is already out and maybe others as well. There’s no biographical significance to coupling the short-lived Lekeu with his long lived contemporary, Arthur de Greef, but their trios do make for a strong contrasting brace; the hothouse Franckian fervour and tortured melancholy of the former and the patrician lyricism and Brahmsian vigour of the latter.

De Greef is the more unusual and he’s better known as a performer of course, one of Grieg’s favourite interpreters. Pearl has a good disc devoted to him and you can find his late 1920s HMV sonata recording of the Kreutzer with Isolde Menges; it’s even had the dubious honour of being pirated.

As a composer he’s much less well known – maybe a few piano morceaux but most will be unfamiliar with the Trio. The idiom is an interesting conflation of influences. As it begins one thinks broadly Franco-Grieg but there’s Brahmsian cut and thrust to the piano writing and to the unison string phrases that reminds one that de Greef was an excellent Brahms player (though the two Brahms sonata recordings on the Menges disc were not with de Greef). There’s maybe a touch of Fauré as well, especially the earlier Fauré, and a lovely Rachmaninovian lyricism in the slow movement. The finale is a touch prosaic though enlivened by beefy piano writing, and especially powerful chording from the piano, which is pretty much in charge for most of the time in this movement at least.

Lekeu’s 1891 Trio predates the de Greef by fully forty-four years. Franckian and famously intense it’s a difficult work to pace, as is a work cast in a similar vein, Magnard’s Violin Sonata. The underlying melancholia and grief is not overstated in this performance.  Instead there’s a sense of forward motion in the opening movements which contrasts with some older performances that have bathed deeply in the extended dramas - I think of the old Musique en Wallonie LP by the Salone-Demilhac-Boufil trio which took a quarter of an hour over the slow movement; here we have 10.20. Even the scherzo tends to zip by; clearly structural matters have been seriously addressed in rehearsal. Incidents such as the second fugato are handled with a certain earthy vigour even if there were moments in the corresponding first fugato when intonation wandered.  There are a few other recordings in the catalogues but this is a work that tends to come and go. Strong competition comes from the Spiller Trio on Arts (coupled with the incomplete Quartet where they’re joined by Oscar Lysy no less). I prefer the Spiller performance; slower and more intimate in the slow movement, more subtle and arresting in phrasing throughout; the strings are warmer as well. The performances and the coupling will probably decide things.

The recording is rather close-up and this can become a touch tiring. It’s sufficiently close up to catch quite a lot of anticipatory sniffing. A final word about the quartet’s unusual name; it’s from a Herman Hesse poem.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Hubert Culot

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