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Joseph JONGEN (1873 – 1953)
Piano Trio Op.10 (1897) [29:09]
Piano Trio Op.30 (1907) [30:38]
Erard Ensemble (Casper Bleumers, violin; Arjan Wildschut, viola; John Addison, cello; Edward Jenning, piano)
Recorded: Maria Minor Kerk, Amsterdam, June 2003
PHAEDRA 92041 [59:47]


Joseph Jongen composed three works for piano trio at different periods of his long composing career : Trio Op.10 for violin, cello and piano (1897), Trio Op.30 for violin, viola and piano (1907) and Deux pièces en trio Op.95 for violin, cello and piano (1931). Some of Jongen’s early works such as his String Quartet No.1 Op.3 (1894), the Cello Concerto Op.18 (1900) and the Piano Trio Op.10 (1987) as well as his Piano Quartet Op.23 (1902) are rather on a large-scale, whereas much of his later output was to be more concise and concentrated. Obviously the young Jongen was flexing his muscles and determined to show that, even at a fairly early age, he was full master of his trade. The most remarkable thing about these pieces is that they are quite successful (even if his First String Quartet is a bit too long and rambling at times) and that they display a formidable formal mastery. True too to say that some of his early works were still much indebted to Franck, particularly in the use of cyclic form. This is quite evident in the Piano Trio Op.10 dedicated to the composer’s father, in which some important thematic material keeps re-appearing throughout the piece, but always with a sure sense of finality. So, most themes from the first movement will re-appear later in the piece, one of the most immediately striking examples of this is the restatement of the third theme from the first movement (in fact a theme curiously redolent of Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Sheherazade) at the very end of the second movement. The final Deciso recapitulates most themes while adding some new ones. Another quite noteworthy feature of the Piano Trio Op.10 is the emergence of many characteristics that will later be regarded as pure Jongen fingerprints, among other, a liking for some simple, diatonic material being confronted to more chromatic elements and – most importantly I think – a warm lyricism and an extraordinary freshness of inspiration. This trio is by no means a prentice work; and this recording of an early major work is a most welcome addition to Jongen’s discography, and an important milestone in our appreciation of this composer’s output.

The Piano Trio Op.30 was composed in 1907, and amply demonstrates the musical progress followed by Jongen during the intervening years. Though still on a large scale, the Piano Trio Op.30 (for the fairly unusual combination of violin, viola and piano) displays a tightly knit argument. In his insert notes, Jaak van Holen rightly describes the whole work as mono-thematic, and – ultimately – as a large-scale theme and variations. The first movement functions as a prelude to the main body of the piece, viz. the central theme and variations, whereas the final movement acts as a postlude in which the main theme has the lion’s share again. The variations of the central movement are quite varied and contrasted building to a central lively section functioning as a brief Scherzo before the final slow variation. The final movement is also quite typically Jongen in its folk-like joie de vivre and energy. The Piano Trio Op.30 is a real masterpiece and one of the early masterpieces in Jongen’s output.

Some time ago, I reviewed another disc (Cyprès CYP 1638) that also including a superb performance of the Piano Trio Op.30 with which that of the Amsterdam-based Erard Ensemble has now to compete. I must say that they face the challenge quite successfully; and their beautifully poised reading of the trio is really very fine. Of course, they have the field to their own as far as the early Piano Trio Op.10 is concerned; and again they acquit themselves quite well indeed. I was at first a bit worried to read that Edward Jenning was playing on an Erard Grand Piano of 1877 restored by Frits Janmaat from Amsterdam; but I must admit (and I readily do so) that this proves quite successful in providing for a better balance between the instruments. So, in short, this is a disc that no fan of Jongen’s music will want to miss. Again, others, too, will find much to enjoy here. I for one have just one slight regret, i.e. that Deux pièces en trio Op.95 have not been included. This small reservation should not deter anyone from investigating into this fine and welcome release.

Hubert Culot



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