Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Jean CRAS (1879-1932) String trio (1926)
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937) String Trio Op.58 (1937)
Jean FRANÇAIX (1904-1997) String Trio (1933)
Offenburg String Trio (Frank Schilli (violin), Rolf Schilli (viola), Martin Merker (cello))
Recorded in Blumenstein Church, 1996
ANTES EDITION BM CD 31.9185 [51.50]

These three French string trios make fascinating disc-mates. Each demonstrates a degree of mastery over form; each establishes a distinct sound and emotive world and each presents a highly personalised response to the form. I suspect to collectors it is Cras’s trio that will be the most immediately compelling. Composed on board a warship in 1926 this is a work of profound imagination written in four movements of unceasing skill. The bold oscillations of the first movement lead onto a more overtly impressionistic second subject, more indeterminate, though sweetly contrasted with the brisk decisive flourish that surrounds it. Everything here is driven by subtle rhythmic and colouristic plasticity of the most rewarding kind. The Lento opens with a colour-glint in the sun, which leads to the introduction of some Eastern European folk elements – Balkan sounding – complete with drones and the violins’ increasingly lyrical strangeness. All this drives the viola to an agitated call to arms – and the movement continues in this aspect of intensity, uncertainty and otherness to its close. Cras introduces violin pizzicati in the third movement, accompanied by an imitative "guitar" – there’s a torrent of verve and vivacity here and developing power as well. The work ends with a folk fugato of headstrong animation; a profusion of energy courses through the movement, plentiful dynamics are observed and the surge of drama sweeps all before it. This is a work you must hear.

Following Cras’s ebullient and masterful Trio Roussel’s may seem a mite reserved but don’t be fooled. This valedictory work, his last completed composition, is a work of real power and concision. Its Allegro Moderato opening movement opens with clarity, linearity but also with melodic serenity and ends in a neo-classicist cadence of summative significance. The heart of the Trio is the Adagio, which spins thematic inter-relatedness with utter precision but no hint of manipulation of material. Instead there is a striving romanticism only partly obscured by the strong chromaticism. One need not listen too hard to hear those lamenting inner voices, or to wonder at the composer’s peaceful affirmation of an ending, one that has been reached through powerful engagement. And so he turns to his finale, a sweetly lyrical march, each instrument almost comically exaggerated in terms of delicacy and articulation, as if Roussel were biding us a satisfied and knowing farewell.

Françaix’s Trio is a four-movement affair of real charm. It opens with a lacy moto perpetuo with individual melodic voices popping up, lots of pizzicati and scurry and wisps of melody – short, sharp, very Françaix. The Scherzo that follows is a boisterous affair with hints of a Mahler Ländler, heavy leaning on beats and a mordantly satiric feel all round but the Andante brings veiled reflection in almost brilliantly strong – and quite deliberate – contrast. He signs off with a rollickingly witty, exaggerated and high spirited Vivo Rondo; back comes the Scherzo naughtiness, there are plenty of heavy suspensions and a retarded, swing effect; unison droning and a scampering rush to the finish and then, when we get there, an insouciant pizzicato throwaway end.

Good, succinct notes and fine, incisive and thoughtful playing from the Offenburg Trio whose recorded debut this was. They prove worthy ambassadors for this wilful, complex and impressive corpus of music.

Jonathan Woolf

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