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Mel BONIS (1858-1937)
Soir & Matin, Op. 76 (1907) [7:12]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Andante con moto in C minor (1878) [9:25]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Three Nocturnes (1924) [7:37]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Sérénade lointaine (1903) [4:41]
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
D’un soir triste (1917) [10:46]
D’un matin de printemps (1917) [4:32]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Mozart-Adagio (1992/2005) [6:08]
Josef SUK (1874-1934)
Elegy in D flat major, Op. 23 (1902) [6:02]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Adagio in E flat major, Op. Posth 148, D 897 (1827) [8:30]
Hans Werner HENZE (1926-2012)
Adagio adagio, Serenade (1993) [4:09]
Boulanger Trio (Karla Haltenwanger (piano), Birgit Erz (violin), Ilona Kindt (cello))
rec. 2014, Kammermusiksaal Deutschlandfunk, Köln
Reviewed as lossless download from eclassical
C-AVI MUSIC 8.553345 [69:08]

“The title 'Solitaires' evokes the singularity of each work on this CD; each of these works needs to be polished like a diamond” runs the opening sentence to the liner-notes. I’m not really sure what means, but perhaps you will be more perceptive than me. Nevertheless, the selection of these mostly slow and reflective works is an interesting one.
Mel Bonis wrote under this “pseudonym”, rather than her real name Melanie, for the sadly familiar reason of hiding her gender from certain hidebound members of the Parisian musical community. These two miniatures are very atmospheric, though whether one would immediately associate them with their respective times of the day if they were called something bland, it is hard to know. What is certain is that they are quite lovely, and will not be in many people’s collections, since these seems to be only their third recording. I have the one coupled with her two piano quartets on MDG. There is not much to pick between the two performances – the Boulanger Trio are a little more emphatic, and definitely better recorded.

I was unaware that Edvard Grieg had written anything for piano trio, so even had this recording been awful, dispelling this aspect of my ignorance would have been a plus. It was apparently written as the slow movement for a trio which was never completed. It fits comfortably among these “miniatures”, though it exhibits a good deal more intensity than most of the others. It certainly makes one regret that Grieg felt unable to write the remaining movements.

The first two of the Bloch Nocturnes are gentle, almost sweet, which makes the beginning of the third (Tempestoso) such a contrast. They have received some attention with a dozen or so recordings, and two of these have been reviewed: Pacific Trio/Capriccio and Hartley Trio/Dal Segno. I have heard the former, which is very good, but certainly not superior to the one being considered here.

The Enescu Serenade is early in his career, idyllic and blissful. It contrasts with the two pieces by Lili Boulanger, written in the last year of her life. They are intense, occasionally brittle and dissonant, often dark - unsurprisingly - and very different to the similarly named works by Melanie Bonis.

Arvo Pärt’s Mozart-Adagio, based on the slow movement from Mozart’s piano sonata K280, begins in stillness, slowly developing the original material, and growing in intensity, before returning to that quiet place. It comes as balm after the intensity of the Boulanger works.

Josef Suk’s Elegy is a moving tribute to a Bohemian novelist Julius Zeyer. When I reviewed the Sitkovetsky Trio’s recording of this, I felt they took it too far towards the funereal. The Boulanger Trio provides more forward progress, without losing the essential emotional pull.

The Schubert Adagio, more often known as the Notturno, is the “big ticket” item here, with more than sixty recordings. The Boulangers give it a direct performance, stripped of the Romantic trimmings that I have encountered in others. In this, they take a similar approach to the Florestan Trio, which is never a bad thing.

The final work by Hans Werner Henze, a composer familiar only to me by name, is in no way modernist. It is a brief, mostly songlike homage to a close friend and supporter of the composer. It is an interesting choice to finish on, providing as it does, a little acidity to purge the palate after all the sweetness.

The sound quality is good, though perhaps the piano is slightly recessed. The booklet notes, written by the trio’s pianist are brief – one and a half pages – but do provide the historical context for each work. With the exception of the Schubert, none of the works are over-represented in the market, so fine performances such as these are to be applauded. Each time I’ve listened to this recording, I’ve enjoyed it more, and that surely is as a good a recommendation as any.

David Barker



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