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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Silhouettes for two violins and piano op. 9: Série I (3), Série II (3) (1899) [21:42]
Silhouettes for two violins and piano op. 43: Livre III (2), Livre IV (5) (1909) [17:29]
Sieben kleine Tondichtungen for two violins and piano op. 81 (1928) [24:20]
Malwina Sosnowski (violin); Rebekka Hartmann (violin); Benyamin Nuss (piano)
rec. Radio-Studio Zürich, 8-9, 11-12 March 2015, co-production Schweizer Radio SRF 2 Kultur

Born in Moscow of Swiss parents, Paul Juon, retired to Switzerland in 1934. In Russia his teachers included Arensky and Taneyev. Skalkottas, Vladigerov, Trapp, Kilpinen, Jarnach and Wolpe were among his pupils. Juon’s catalogue spans many genres but with the predominance being in chamber music. There are no fewer than six piano trios, four string quartets and three violin sonatas. There are also three violin concertos alongside much else. This site has reviewed his chamber music on CD (CPO 7772782 ~ CPO 7775072 ~ Gallo CD876) as well as one disc of his music for piano four hands (review). Echoes of Rachmaninov plagued or blessed those discs; not so in the case of this disc.

What we have here is getting on for 70 minutes of miniatures for piano and two violins. It's not a common combination but is very adeptly handled by Juon, his interpreters and the audio engineers of Swiss Radio. These twenty pieces were written over a period approaching three decades but their style is fairly uniform. None of them are longer than 6:30 and the shortest is 1:11. The folk-inflected Silhouettes range through Brahmsian folksiness to Grieg (a touch of Troldhaugen), to village fiddlers. Their easygoing yet extremely accomplished floral grace and pointed wit often reminded me of Frank Bridge's short pre-Great War efforts. There's even a touch of Kreisler in the Chant d'Amour. In the same vein the Intermezzi of Livre IV are not short on salon caramel. At the extremes there is ponderous gloom in Musette and stomping heaviness veering towards drama in Obstination. There's not much of a change in style for the Sieben kleine Tondichtungen. Despite the composer's 56 years we encounter tender conversation - something perhaps autobiographical in Pastorale. Kreislerian glucose returns in Intermezzo and the countryside skirl of itinerant village fiddlers in Impromptu. The Barcarolle proffers a quickish sauntering pulse, some lachrymose episodes and at times uncanny echoes of Howells' chamber music of the later 1900s. The final Burletta Risoluto makes for a sturdy if conventional flourish to end the tone poems and the disc.

Hardly earth-shattering but never less than pleasing invention. Well worth exploring.

Rob Barnett



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