Destination Paris
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
String Trio No.2 H238 (1934) [16:56]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
String Trio (1933) [14:14]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
String Trio No.1 H136 (1923) [19:51]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Aubade in C major (1899) [4:31]
Lendvai String Trio (Nadia Wijzenbeek (violin); Ylvali Zilliacus (viola); Marie Macleod (cello))
rec. 19-21 June 2009, The Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex
STONE RECORDS 5060192780079 [55:50]

One of the perks of being a MusicWeb International reviewer is the receipt of fantastic music that on many occasions just blows you away. If you fancy trying your hand let Len Mullenger know and, who knows, you too could get to hear things you wouldn’t easily come across! This disc is a case in point; it’s not that the music is unknown but let’s face it, if you didn’t already own these works how likely would you be to stumble on them? For me at any rate it was a revelatory experience.

I’m a great Martinů fan – his voice is so utterly distinctive I can usually recognise him within a few minutes, at least in his orchestral works; it’s trickier when it comes to his chamber music. I was listening out for the usual little devices that so easily give him away but apart from some hints around three minutes into the first movement of String Trio No.2 and the climax of that movement I was not doing very well in the identification stakes. No matter; the music is wonderful and full of energy and as far as the players are concerned Martinů certainly makes demands that allow for no relaxation.

The same can said, though, for Jean Françaix who is too often written off as frivolous just because his music is usually very funny - what’s wrong with that I hear you ask – my point exactly. Here too he has his musical jokes as in the first movement when he uses a viola motif to spell out Bach’s name in reverse. The second movement has a cartoon-like quality with cello pizzicato in its central section. The slow movement is much more serious and the main theme is a beautiful one that remains in the brain long afterward. I can imagine it becoming, what I heard Sarah Mohr-Pietsch describe on Radio 3 today as, an “earworm” that refuses to leave. The final movement, however, brings things back to earth with a particularly jaunty tune so typical of Françaix. The whole thing is great fun and very musical.

Martinů’s String trio No.1 comes next and shows him as a master of this combination of instruments; one that so many other composers avoided. The first movement is restless and agitated. It seems to describe a kind of anxiety but since this is done by design it is very effective as much as affecting. The second movement is much more tranquil as if a resolution has been reached. Martinů is nothing if not boundlessly inventive so you won’t find yourself wondering if you haven’t heard the tune before in someone else’s work because you won’t have. The violin plays extremely quietly in the closing passages in the second movement and I took my virtual hat off to Nadia Wijzenbeek for pulling off this effect so seemingly effortlessly. The final movement at last gives some aural hints of Czech folk-dances from around two minutes in. If you were trying to guess the composer you’d have a clue as to where in the world they might be from. This folk-like theme is played with for the rest of the movement which ends with a race for the finishing line.

The final work on the disc is the Aubade for String Trio by Enescu - a work I don’t think I’ve ever heard before but is so immediately recognisable you think you have. This is not because it has been used in his other works or anyone else’s but because of an incredible ability to write catchy tunes. It is a tiny gem and hearing it was like discovering a pearl in an oyster. Another “earworm” in the making? I fully expect so!

The title of the liner notes is: Martinů, Françaix & Enescu – The French Connection. Françaix was French while the other two ended up in Paris; who didn’t in the early years of the 20th century. It is a nice neat headline and the title of the disc Destination Paris shows the trio on the album cover in a Citroën DS19 (or 21) on their way to a rendezvous with the music of three unique voices – I’m so glad they got there! The only quibble I have apart from a few errors in the text - Polika instead of Polička for Martinů’s birthplace - is the lack of any write-up about the Lendvai String trio. Where are they from, where did they study, did they meet during their studies, and how did they come to name themselves Lendvai – a Hungarian name if I’m not mistaken? This is a mere small point for this is in every way an excellent and exciting disc played with impeccable precision by a fabulous trio. I hope we’ll hear them again - I’m sure we will.

Steve Arloff

A rendezvous with the music of three unique musical voices.