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Louis THIRION (1879-1966)
Piano Trio, op. 11 (1910) [25:13]
String Quartet, op. 10 (1908) [26:34]
Laurent Wagschal (piano), Solenne Païdassi (violin), Sébastien van Kuijk (cello)
Quatuor Stanislas
rec. October 2015, Salle Poirel, Nancy
Premiere recordings
TIMPANI 1C1237 [51:55]

Timpani has been a beacon of light when it comes to the promotion of less-familiar French composers. Guy Ropartz, Jean Cras, Maurice Emmanuel and Philippe Gaubert are just a handful who have grabbed my attention, but the list goes on. Louis Thirion is a name, I have to admit, I’ve never come across before. He was one of those composers who chose to locate away from Paris with a resultant loss of profile. He was born in 1879 in Baccarat, east of Paris, and went on to study music at the Nancy Conservatory, where Guy Ropartz taught him composition. The older man was so impressed with his student’s talent that he appointed him Professor of Organ and Piano in 1898. In the early years of the twentieth century he had a burst of creativity, including a Second Symphony, which I discovered on Youtube. A large romantic canvas it’s worth a listen, despite a rather dated recording. External factors, however, were to have a profound effect on the course of Thirion’s life. When war broke out he embarked on a period of military service. Then in 1920 came a devastating event; his wife died and he was left single-handed to raise two young children. From then on he made the conscious decision to give up composing and devote the rest of his life to teaching. He remained at the Conservatory in Nancy until 1949 and died in the city in 1966.

The earliest work here is the String Quartet which was premiered in Paris in April 1909. The precise date and circumstances of its composition are unknown. Thirion eschews the Franckian cyclical forms prevalent at the time, opting for independence of melodic material for each movement. If there’s an inspiration it’s the later works of Guy Ropartz and Albert Roussel. Cast in a traditional four movement layout, there’s a generosity of melodic material. The work opens in an atmosphere of peace and contentment, but it eventually becomes more animated and dramatic. Pizzicatos play a prominent role in the scherzo-like movement which follows, and the light, airy, fleet-of-foot character has an almost Mendelssohnian flavour. The Adagio is the longest movement at just over nine minutes, and feels like the emotional heart of the work. Here the composer’s melodic gifts are very much in evidence, and the intimacy created is of a sad and sombre demeanor. Energy and vigour inform the lively finale and optimism prevails. Expertly scored, Thirion’s wealth of imaginative ideas truly cast a spell, with the work ending in an impressive flourish. The Quatuor Stanislas give a deeply committed performance, and their polished and flawless ensemble is a strongly positive element.

The Piano Trio came two years later and won a prize from the Société des Compositeurs de Musique. It had its first outing in Paris on 25 March 1911 with Thirion himself at the piano. Once again he adopted the four movement structure. The first movement’s impetuous narrative has a passionate and highly romantic sweep, it’s 6½ minute duration bears testimony to a concision of ideas. The scherzo is easygoing and genial, and doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. Again the slow movement is positioned third. Introspective and reflective, time just seems static. Wagschal and co. luxuriate in the sumptuous lyricism of the music. The dance-like finale is upbeat and joyous, it’s sun-soaked lyricism particularly alluring.

I was impressed by the accompanying annotations by Jacques Tchamkerten which not only describe the social and historical context into which Thirion was born, but give detailed analysis of the music played. The Salle Poirel’s sympathetic acoustic showcases these delightful works in the best possible light. I hope that Timpani will one day record an up to date version of the Second Symphony.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: David Barker



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