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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Piano Quartet Op. 50 (1912) [32.36]
Piano Quartet Op. 37 (1907) [29.13]
Oliver Triendl (piano); Daniel Gaede (violin); Hariolf Schlichtig (viola); Peter Bruns (cello)
rec. Siemensvilla Berlin-Lankwitz, 14-16 December 2006
CPO 7772782 [62.09]
Experience Classicsonline

I confess that until this CD plopped onto my doormat recently I had not heard of Paul Juon. I feel somewhat embarrassed by this because what I have heard here is most impressive.

So what kind of style can be expected? When I first saw the impressionist painting on the front of the booklet I thought that Juon - being unfamiliar with this surname - must hale from a southern European land. But the painter gave me a big clue as to what I might expect. It is certainly a French-type café painting and dated 1908 but it is by Nikolaj Klodt (1865-1918). Klodt was a Russian artist and so indeed Paul Juon, who pictured a couple of times in the booklet, is Russian-born; Moscow in fact. He was a pupil of Taneyev and Arensky. He lived much of his life in Berlin and indeed in Azerbaijan. Perhaps this wanderlust is the reason why he is now not at all well known. Yet there is a sort of Gallic impressionism in this music or more accurately an exoticism. This perhaps links him with another master: Rimsky-Korsakov. There is, I have learned, a Paul Juon society and their website is worth looking at. It will point you in the direction of other recorded chamber works. There is also a sense in this music of Russian folk melody as in the third movement of Op. 50. All in all, an interesting mix and a promising beginning. 

The booklet notes, translated by Suan Marie Praeder somewhat surprisingly state that the greatest twentieth century composers in this media - indeed the two men who saved the Piano Quartet as a form - were Max Reger and Paul Juon. I quote: “the piano quartet medium which began with Mozart’s two compositions found its last two important composers … in Paul Juon and Max Reger”. 

Incidentally the booklet notes although quite useful are sometimes rather overly poetic and in places are really quite comic. As an example I offer “Here we witness (in the Op. 50) an intimate conversation, pervaded by hidden allusions and indecipherable references; but its wistfulness, which is not at all that of a whiny lament, is so eloquent that we really never miss the key to its secret cabinets of meaning”. Beautiful. 

So what of these two works? I always think it curious that some record companies do not present the pieces in chronological order. It’s a small point and one can track a CD any old way, nevertheless I will discuss the works in their recorded order. 

Both pieces are long and one might say, serious. The later work comes first. It is in four movements with the brief Scherzo placed second. The first movement opens with several quite curiously contrasted ideas which the composer ‘plays with’ throughout. There is a definite, quite romantic, second subject, but the sonata form is not treated overly strictly. Emotionally it makes a strong impact and with the fleeting scherzo following, ones attention is held. The slow movement has its own distinctiveness of melody and the finale, although possibly slightly less interesting than the rest, rounds the works off in a thoughtful manner. It is dedicated to the composer’s wife Ekaterina who suffered her final illness whilst the work was on the composer’s desk. Juon was nursing her during this time. The mood is dark and impassioned not so much tearful - more elegiac and melancholic but a fine testimony to their, up until then, happy lives together. 

It is instantly apparent that the performances are extremely committed, broad in tone and beautifully recorded and balanced. The players must have come to this music from a standing start but quite obviously believe in it. Op. 50 demonstrates this but Op. 37 proves it. This is a three movement work, the first two being the length of the third which is simply marked sostenuto. The subtitle ‘Rhapsodie’ explains the form, perhaps in England ‘Fantasia’ would have been used. Yet despite the potential it certainly avoids rambling and ideas are brought back and developed. It is a carefree piece with the almost childlike quality of the second tune in the finale a good example as is the short middle movement. It is the antithesis of Op. 50, and the two works complement each other. Both are fully romantic, but with penetrating harmonies and originality. The opening idea of Op. 37 begins on cello and is taken up by the violin and viola. It is then passionately pushed out of the way by the piano – an especially arresting moment. 

As you can tell I have enjoyed and much admired this CD. I daresay it will remain little known and probably rather specialist in its appeal, yet that should not be so. The music is accessible and all music-lovers can take it to heart. The performances, as I have indicated, are extremely fine and I can only urge you to search it out and find out more about this sadly little known figure in early 20th Century mid-European music. 

Gary Higginson 



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