Most folk would regard the combination of flute, viola and
harp as rather unusual and unlikely to have brought forth many
works. However, a brief look on the Internet
reveals dozens of pieces for the medium, with many of them having
been written in the past thirty years. The earliest would appear
to be the present Sonate by Debussy; however, Bax could
be the contender for that honour.
Even the most cursory hearing of the works on this CD reveals
a great potential for richness of musical colour and tone. It
is an instrumental combination that must be a gift to any composer
who wishes to write a piece of evocative music that nods towards
impressionism, the mysterious or the exotic.
Arnold Bax balanced impressionism with romanticism in many of
his works. Added to this was the influence of the ‘Celtic Twilight’.
In the present Elegiac Trio all three stylistic elements are
present. This is a lyrical work that alludes to the 1916 Easter
Rising in Ireland and what Bax perceived as the loss of his
ideal (and maybe imaginary) world.
The work is written in one continuous movement and references
Irish melodies, ‘colourful pastoral scenes [and] … rippling
waves.’ I think that what impresses me most about this work
is the successful balance between the various instrumental timbres.
It is possible that Bax was inspired by Debussy’s Sonate
for the same combination of instruments which was written some
six months previously. However, some scholars feel that Bax
would not have had an opportunity to hear this work as it was
not heard in London until just six weeks before the Bax premiere.
So maybe he invented this particular chamber grouping.
Debussy’s Sonate en Trio was, as stated above, written
during the Great War in 1916. It is one of three important sonatas
written in the last years of his life: the other two are for
cello and violin. In many ways, the present work sounds like
an improvisation, where the soloists experiment with various
instrumental colourings. They are often used in a pointillistic
manner which may remind the listener of the orchestral work
La Mer. The Sonate is in three movements.
I am not quite sure about Ravel’s Sonatine en trio.
This is simply a transcription of the well-known Sonatina
for piano. It is attractive enough, but I would much rather
hear it in the original version. It was arranged sometime after
1915 by the harpist Carlos Salzedo with, ‘by all accounts’,
the composer’s blessing. Perhaps it would have been better for
the Debussy Ensemble to champion a work by a lesser-known composer
that was especially written for their instrumental combination.
After reading the liner-notes about the William Mathias’s Zodiac
I was a little concerned. My eye caught a sentence about ‘cosmic’
effects, such as ‘string sliding using a metal object’ on the
viola and ‘soundboard tapping’ on the harp. As my late father
would have said, it sounded a little ‘long haired’. Yet I need
not have worried. Mathias’s good sense and musicality saved
the day. The work is conceived as a journey between the star
signs of Pisces, Aries and Taurus. The three constellations
are separated by ‘travelling’ music. This is an attractive,
musically interesting piece that is often haunting and always
interesting. There is another recording of this piece listed
in the catalogues on the ‘Harp and Company’ label, however I
have not heard this.
Theodore Dubois is best remembered in the organ loft. I wonder
what aspiring organist has not attempted the superb Toccata.
However, there is a deal of instrumental, chamber, vocal and
stage works in his catalogue. The Terzettino, which
gives its title to the CD, was composed in 1904: the composer
was 67 years old. It is a delicious work that is both romantic
and reflective. The only downside is that it is far too short.
The Debussy Ensemble consists of three well-respected and competent
soloists. Susan Milan was a former principal of the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra who now has a largely solo career performing with
three chamber ensembles including the present one. She is also
Professor and Fellow of the Royal College of Music and is a
director of the British Isles Music Festival. Matthew Jones
is a teacher, performer on the violin and viola and a composer.
He regularly gives recitals with the pianist Michael Hampton.
Finally Ieuan Jones began playing the harp at the age of six.
He continued his studies at the Royal College of Music. He has
given concerts in many countries and has made a number of recordings.
Much of this music is impressionistic and numinous in mood and
I felt that this was not reflected in the sound quality of this
CD: they are just a little let down by the hard edge in the
recording. However, the playing is excellent and all three soloists
respond to each other sympathetically.
Bearing in mind that these works are not well known, the liner-notes
could have been more extensive. For example, there is virtually
no description or analysis of the Ravel, the Bax or the Dubois.
Finally, I felt that the cover was just a little bit ‘naff’.
Nevertheless, this is a great CD with a wide-ranging selection
of music: it displays an instrumental combination that is relatively