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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Eight Pieces Op.83 (1910) [36.10]
(Andante  [3.49]; Allegro con moto [2.35]; Andante con moto [6.41]; Allegro agitato [3.48]; Rumänische Melodie : Andante [5.12]; Nachtgesang (Nocturne) : Andante con moto [6.10]; Allegro vivace ma non troppo [3.22]; Moderato [4.34])
Vincent D’INDY (1851-1931)
Trio Op.29 (1888) [35.53]
(Overture: Modéré [14.11]; Divertissement: Vif et animé [6.00]; Chant élégiaque: Lent [6.00]; Finale: Animé [9.43])
Amici Ensemble
rec. Humbercrest United Church, Toronto, Canada, 14-15 May 2003; 5-6 February 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557347 [72.03]


An interesting combination of instruments here - piano, clarinet and cello - and an equally interesting pairing of works. This was made possible only because the Amici players chose Bruch’s own alternative version of his Acht Triostücke or Eight Trio Pieces Op.83 in which the cello substitutes for the viola (there is also a version in which, like Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio K.498 and Schumann’s Märchenbilder Op.132, the violin replaces the clarinet). Bruch responded warmly to the brown or purple colours - my preferred ones when I hear such rich alto instruments - of the clarinet, viola, horn or cello. He did not care a whit for the piano, declaring fairly early on in his career that it was his ambition to stage a public auto da fè (a ritual burning) of pianos in a town square. And that’s despite the fact that he was more than a fine pianist himself, if No.4 of the set is anything to go by. For a while Bruch’s second son Max Felix was a professional clarinettist, before going off to the then burgeoning retail trade in gramophone records (those were the days). It was for him that he wrote not only Op.83 but also the Double Concerto for clarinet and viola Op.88 the following year. In addition there was talk of using the harp instead of the piano for three of the eight, Nos.3, 5 and 6; one can hear the arpeggiated shapes of the piano writing that might well have had that instrument in mind. Back in 1988, when my biography appeared marking the 150th anniversary of Bruch’s birth, the BBC honoured him as ‘This Week’s Composer’, and enterprisingly agreed to my suggestion that after Op.83 had been played in a studio recording, those three numbers were repeated but with harp substituting for the piano, undoubtedly the first time since 1910. All the pieces save one are in the minor mode (the scherzotic No.7 therefore a welcome relief), lending a rather sad and wistful mood to the music. His love of folksong is clear if only in one of them, the Rumanian Melody No.5, suggested to him by Princess zu Wied at one of his open-house Sunday afternoon musical gatherings in Berlin. It was to her that Bruch dedicated the set. Apart from a single Piano Quartet written in 1886, these pieces represent a return to chamber music after his second string quartet Op.10 way back in 1860. Although Bruch himself recommended dipping into, rather than playing all eight pieces, it is hard to avoid doing so, they are so engagingly melodious. In terms of harmony and overall structure (binary, ternary or sonata form) not much has changed: Schumann, Mendelssohn and of course now Brahms are all there, but needless to say there is no sign of Wagner. Only three years later, but light years away from the ultra-Romantic Bruch, Stravinsky would scandalise the musical world in Paris with his Rite of Spring. Extraordinary to realise that Bruch lived on another seven years, linking Mendelssohn with Stravinsky. Would that he had begun by writing like the former, and at the end of his life like the latter.

Another octogenarian composer was Vincent D’Indy, though Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) outlived them both by making it to 86. Unlike Bruch’s Indian Summer trio, D’Indy’s is a much earlier work, written in 1888 when in his late thirties. Because he played all three instruments involved, it is well written for them, though ultimately it was the piano in which the composer excelled, and D’Indy, unlike Bruch, makes no attempt to avoid the influence of Wagner though neither man got away from Beethoven. He was late into his teenage years and intent on a military career (Napoleon his idol) when he discovered his natural talent for composition. Befriended by his contemporary Henri Duparc, he studied organ and composition with César Franck at the Paris Conservatoire. The trio heard here is the first of his mature works, and already sounds quite different from Bruch’s, leaving aside national differences and characteristics between 19th century French and German music. Franck’s influence on its structural unity is due to the motivic principle followed throughout. The second movement divertissement is particularly charming as it dispenses its Gallic wit.

The Amici players are highly accomplished technicians and have a clear rapport with the style of this Romantic music. In Bruch’s adaptation, cellist David Hetherington has much high writing to contend with and generally does so with ease. Intonation in the latter moments of No.5 and some of the exquisitely beautiful No.6 in Bruch’s Op.83 are worrying due to problems unifying vibrato between cello and clarinet; probably it would have been wiser to have dispensed with it altogether. There are similar moments of concern which seem to have risen from the cutting-room floor in the opening movement of D’Indy’s work, though Joaquin Valdepeñas plays its second movement beautifully. The recording acoustic is generous, and while Valdepeñas brings warm-tone to his clarinet playing, Patricia Parr is sympathetically discreet in her role as accompanist yet confident as a virtuoso. This is a valuable addition to the catalogues and a must either for collectors of alternative versions or for lovers of Romantic music in general.

Christopher Fifield

 

 



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