The Pasquier was one of the most eminent and
durable string trios of the century. It was founded in 1927 by
the brothers of that name Ė Jean, the violinist, violist Pierre
and cellist Etienne. They premiered works by Martinu, Roussel,
FranÁaix, Milhaud, Schmitt and many others - many written for
them. Jean and Etienne performed in the premiere of Messiaenís
Quartet for the End of Time in 1941 and later recorded
Though I knew about them, I had not previously come across these 1951 Les Discophiles FranÁais inscriptions. The Divertimento had long been a staple in their repertoire. In fact though the brief documentary notes tell us a little about the brothers they donít disclose the fact that they had recorded the work on 78s back in the mid-1930s on Columbia DX742-46. So, wanting to hear how the earlier trio performed the work, a decade into their filial collaboration, I lined the 78 set against the 1951 re-make. The comparisons were instructive, and reinforce what one instinctively knows; that nothing is set in aspic, and that judgements are inevitably provisional and limiting. Which is why performers seldom listen to their own recordings; they canít bear to, as theyíve moved on, adjusted perspectives, now seeing things differently.
The pre-war performance is far less propulsive, far more overtly and affectionately phrased. Itís also considerably slower. Its expressive romanticism stands at a serious remove from the more gimlet-eyed, buoyant rapidity of the post-war Pasquier, who had clearly radically rethought their view of the work. They had tightened the performance, attempting perhaps to remedy some rococo elements in their earlier traversal. The projection in the Adagio is far more intense and abrasive in 1951. The quite low level of the 78 set nevertheless enshrines some quite shapely dynamic variations, something the 1951 recording tends to sculpt into one line. If the Andante sounds perfunctory in 1951, back in the mid-1930s it sounds softer and a mite more Ďpreciousí. In short their earlier selves offer a more youthful, gemŁtlich view of the work, Beechamesque to the Szell-like stare of the 1951 disc.
The 1951 recording isnít helped by the very boxy acoustic or its associated razory quality. It isnít kind to the corporate tonal responses of the elegant Gallic threesome. Itís tempting to herald the 1941 Heifetz-Primrose-Feuermann recording of the Divertimento as a harbinger of the Pasquier Trioís new look at the work. Maybe they knew the set, or maybe they didnít. In any case they donít seek to replicate the fast tempi taken by the Russian-Scottish-Galician trio in the Adagio, nor the ethos of that performance. After nearly twenty-five years together it may simply be the case that their maturer selves reflected the tenor of the times in their increasingly unindulgent, direct approach.
The coupling here is K404a, contentiously attributed to Mozart but with even greater force denied to be by him. The Bach works taken are from the WTC; Book I No 8, and Book II Nos. 12 and 14, and the Adagio (BWV527) and Fugue from the Art of Fugue Contrapunctus 8. Once again the corporate sonority can incline to the chilly but this is more a feature of the recording than the tonal qualities of the players. The fugal entries of the first Fugue are excellently realised with a hint of wistful distance. Thereís a hint also of ensemble insecurity in the Menuetto [track 13] but itís very brief. What this performance seems to confirm is that the later groupís vibrato usage had tightened and speeded up somewhat as well.
Specialists, then, will find plenty over which to mull here.