Emanuel Ensemble
Nikolai KAPUSTIN (1937-)
Trio, Op 86 [19:12]
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Pièce romantique [7:41]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Adagio and Allegro in A flat, Op 70 [9:02]
François BORNE (1840-1920)
Fantaisie Brillante sur Carmen [11:13]
Louise FARRENC (1804-1875)
Trio Op 45 [24:59]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
La Muerte del Ángel [3:32]
Emanuel Ensemble (Anna Stokes (flute); Louisa Tuck (cello); John Reid (piano))
rec. 17-18 August 2010, and 22 May 2011 (Borne), Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK
full price

You’ve probably never heard much of this music, and you’ll probably enjoy all of it. The Emanuel Ensemble, a young trio comprising a flute, cello, and piano, have really put together a smart, adventurous, and totally pleasing program here, ranging from contemporaries Robert Schumann and Louise Farrenc to the 1990s jazz world of Nikolai Kapustin. In between we’ve got a Carmen fantasy, a serenade by the legendary flautist Philippe Gaubert, and a Piazzolla tango. What’s not to like?

Kapustin’s Trio begins the program. Nikolai Kapustin got his start in the early 1960s, as, in a way, the great hope of Soviet jazz: YouTube preserves fragments of his appearances on state television, including a jaw-dropping ‘Toccata’ for solo pianist and big band, which the composer dispatches with an ease and dispassion which make James Bond look neurotic. All of Kapustin’s music is totally jazzy to the ear, and most of it sounds improvised (his greatest influence is Oscar Peterson), but all of it is very carefully notated and written out, indeed as instruction-laden as a Mahler score. This paradox has been confusing critics ever since it started, but the composer, still alive, pays them no heed. His Trio, from 1998, is one of the composer’s first major chamber works, though he wrote it in his mid-fifties. The outer movements are jaunty and virtuosic showcases for his style of apparent improvisation but genuine development of central themes. The slow movement is, by contrast, much more sensitive than you’d expect. This is all wholly enjoyable, fairly compactly developed, and with very distinctive personalities assigned to each instrument. If you like the idiom, you’ll also love Kapustin’s brilliant string quartet.

We travel back in time for much of the rest of the program. Philippe Gaubert was a noted composer of quite a lot of flute music, as well as several well-executed ballets. The Pièce Romantique shows an equal sensitivity toward the cello, which ushers in the beautiful main tune; the seven-minute work really lives up to billing as a lyrical romance of great craft.

The center of the program shrinks the trio down to two players: Robert Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, originally for horn and piano, here showcases cellist Louisa Tuck, while François Borne’s Carmen Fantasy does for the flute roughly what Sarasate’s Carmen piece did for the violin. In the Carmen fantasy there’s an engaging obsession with the opera’s dark “fate” motif, which brings out the flute’s lower, more expressive side. It’s a welcome change from the instrument’s stereotypically chipper persona.

The booklet rightly calls Louise Farrenc the best female composer of the 19th century, and I would venture to add that she was one of the best composers of any sex between the death of Beethoven and the rise of Brahms and Wagner. Her three symphonies (not two, as the essay misstates) are enormously impressive, and they’re also the Farrenc you’re most likely to know, since CPO recorded the full cycle. CPO also has a disc of her other piano trios (piano, violin, cello; piano, clarinet, cello) and a woodwind sextet.

The trio offered here begins with a melancholy main tune of Mendelssohnian build; the piano writing is a solid backbone to the music, and the tight construction of the opening allegro, with its really exceptional melodies and unerring dramatic pace, would have been a proud moment for Schumann or the young Brahms. It’s also another good place to admire the affinity the Emanuel Ensemble players have for each other; I thought, as I listened, that this had better be the first of many CDs from the group. Farrenc’s trio is in four movements, and the last three are almost exactly five minutes each, highlighted by a presto finale which poses great dangers to the flautist and very skillfully brings the music from E minor to E major with wit and ingenious style. I’m again reminded of how difficult it is to explain Farrenc’s neglect.

Everything is brought together by a Piazzolla encore, La Muerte del Ángel, vividly arranged (by whom?) to give each instrument a fiercely sexy moment in the spotlight. The booklet is a bit of a letdown, as there are no track timings of any kind and the biography of Farrenc is, as I’ve noted, not totally accurate. But this is such an exceptionally fine young ensemble, and such a marvel of a program, that I can’t possibly hold back from the highest recommendation. The sound quality, up close and personal but with plenty of warmth, is icing on a very fine cake.

Brian Reinhart

You’ve probably never heard much of this music, and you’re sure to love all of it.