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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Sextet for 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos and piano in C minor, Op. 22 (1902) [38.20]
Quintet for 2 violins, cello and piano, Op. 44 (1909) [33.00]
Carmina Quartett (Matthias Enderle (violin I); Susanne Frank (violin II); Wendy Champney (viola); Stephen Goerner (cello)); Oliver Triendl (piano); Thomas Grossenbacher (cello) (Sextet)
rec. RadioStudio Zürich, 27-30 June 2009
CPO 777 507-2 [71.27]

I wrote a review of a CD of the Paul Juon Piano Quartets Opp. 37 and 50 in 2009 (CPO 777 278) and have been trying to work out why I have not heard of him since then. As a result of hearing the present two significant and large-scale chamber works I see Juon as a significant and imposing figure straddling the cusp of late-romanticism and early modernism. Having said that the Op. 22 Sextet demonstrates less of the latter than any of the other works. Even so, there are several innovative features.
The Sextet takes up five tracks of this CD. The second and third movements could be combined as they make up a rather noble and hymn-like theme, stated first by the piano, followed by seven variations. Five of these are in the elegiac Andantino quasi Allegretto (tr. 2) and the remaining two in the shorter Minuetto (tr. 3); a nice touch this. Even shorter is the Intermezzo which just adds a much needed lightness before the rather Russian and rhythmic finale.
The main emphasis of the work lies however with the first movement which is pretty much the length of the last three combined. It is marked Moderato. There is a feel of Russian folk music in the first subject especially when stated so baldly by the piano at the very start. The key of C minor gives the music that serious Beethovenian edge. The second subject is given, at least at first, to the viola. The minor key is foremost although the exposition moves into the relative major towards the end. The key and something about the piano writing will be reminiscent of Brahms perhaps the Third Piano Quartet which is also in C minor. There is a seriousness of purpose but also a strong melodic emphasis, divided equally between the instruments. Juon is quoted in Jörg Hillebrand’s excellent accompanying notes as having described his music “almost throughout rather harsh and of gloomy Nordic colouration”. Harsh, no, gloomy, no but there is a dark colouration brought about by the generally low tessitura which he prefers. This is exemplified by the use of two cellos as well as the viola and heavy bass chords. Don’t let that put you off - this is moving and never uninteresting music, which will involve you throughout its process.
The Quintet is a fully mature work in four movements. The eleven minute opening Allegro moderato is a gushing and passionately romantic utterance. It ends in bliss and serenity after a torrid affair. This is a very impressive sonata structure incorporating one especially sensitive passage without the piano in the development section. The second movement is designated commodo. I remembered that in the Op. 37 Piano Quartet Juon seemed to enjoy dance rhythms. This movement is a sort of galumphing waltz. It’s not one you could dance to in polite circles but on your own you might strum a hand or foot to its pounding ostinati and drones - great stuff.
The Sostenuto third movement starts in the depths of the cello and piano with a dark and very Nordic melody. It rises to three passionately excitable climaxes before ending with an unexpectedly autumnal calm. The finale is marked Risoluto - irato e con impeto. With its occasional unison passages and piano octaves and indeed the rather earnest fugue in its centre, Risoluto seems an appropriate term. It’s an emotionally volatile movement which transports you from the Russian ‘кафе’ (teashop) to the Церковь (basilica) in seconds and back to the distress of being again human. Also in some passages it can be difficult to pin down a regular time-signature. Just as you think we are moving towards a calm and contented ending Juon throws in another dozen bars of fervour before ending with a confident final chord.
This is a terrific piece that I have found riveting on each playing. It makes a perfect case for Juon’s rehabilitation as an important figure especially in Russian chamber music. I believe there is also much orchestral music yet to discover. Let’s hope that some of these works, for example the concertos, might also soon appear.
The booklet essay tells us little about the music but a great deal about the life of the composer. There are photos of the performers but there’s no picture of the composer - rather a pity.
Gary Higginson