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Théodore GOUVY (1819-1898)
Piano Trio No. 2 Op. 18 (1847) [29:07]
Piano Trio No. 3 Op. 19 (1855) [30:27]
Piano Trio No. 4 Op. 22 (1858) [29:46]
Voces Intimae (Riccardo Ceccetti (fortepiano); Luigi De Filippi (violin); Sandre Meo (cello))
rec. June 2012, Grosse Lindensaal, Markkleeberg
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72571 [59:36 + 29:46]

Born on the French-Prussian border, Théodore Gouvy is one of those figures who grew up with a dual French and German cultural heritage. Highly regarded in his time by figures such as Brahms, Reinecke and Joachim, Gouvy made more of an impression in Germany, while Berlioz despaired of the French attitude to his work: “that a musician of the importance of M. Gouvy is still not very well known in Paris… is enough to confuse and inflame the naive spirits that still believe in the reason and the justice of our musical manners.” Gouvy’s Requiem was only recently rediscovered, and his symphonies have been recorded on the CPO label.
As far as I can tell there is no competition for these recordings of the Piano Trios. Gouvy wrote five works in this genre, and my only major complaint about this 2 CD release is why at least one of the other two haven’t been included. The timing for CD 2 seems to invite at least one more work, though even with 80+ minutes now being possible on this medium I suppose a complete set would have struggled. With this gripe out of the way, it does however have to be said that these are pretty stunning recordings of some lively and attractive pieces.
To start with, do not be put off by the use of a fortepiano. The instrument used here us a Pleyel from 1848, which has plenty of oomph and a fine, deep resonance. There is some of that slightly twangy tone colour to the sound as you would expect, but the collective sonority of this with the strings - presumably gut - of the violin and cello, works extremely well. Voces Intimae have been acclaimed for their recording of trios by Schumann, though Michael Cookson wasn’t so enthusiastic (see review). I’ve had a listen to this online and can see his point about the recording and the nature of the fortepiano in this case. I would say even from a cursory comparison that the Gouvy recording is an entirely different beast, the piano here rising far more to meet the qualities of the string sound and creating an integrated and actually quite spectacular sound - perhaps even a little over-bright, though different sound systems will no doubt mellow this effect.
Gouvy’s piano trios are great fun in places. If you want to be convinced have a listen to the beginning of the Piano Trio No. 3, which has a quite uplifting bounce. The influences of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann are never entirely absent, but Gouvy imbues his scores with plenty of individual character. The harmonic ‘hook’ which leads us into the Piano Trio No. 2 is quite memorable, which is no doubt why it was placed first. The overall impression is one of remarkably well crafted music which only really skims the surface of those Romantic ideals which were meant to reflect the innermost feelings and emotions. There is plenty of lovely lyrical material in the slower movements, but there is also a certain amount of hanging around waiting for something new to happen, both aspects which can be easily heard in the Adagio of the Piano Trio No. 3.
Voces Intimae have dedicated a great deal of time to Hummel having recorded his trios for Warner Classics in 2006, so it is not surprising that they identify Gouvy’s use of material from his trio in E minor Op. 83 in the opening movement of the Piano Trio No. 4. The transparent nature of this ‘classical’ opening creates a nice contrast, and Gouvy’s clever development and variation is fascinating and witty. The elegance and restraint of the Larghetto is as good as anything by many of your more famous composers, and the passion and fire in the striking Minuetto makes a mockery of such an innocent sounding title.
Aside from the amount of empty disc for which you are paying I commend this release wholeheartedly. Gouvy’s music may not be always biting at the ankles of his illustrious musical forbears, but it is just the thing for grey and rainy afternoons when you just want to be carried along on a wave of inventive brilliance - especially in such a sparkling recording and performances with as much commitment as these.
Dominy Clements