Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Orchestral Works - Volume 1
Vægtervise (Fantasy on Danish Folk Songs) Op.31 (?1904) [18:10]
Symphony in A major Op.23 (1903) [42:38]
Moscow SO/Christof Escher
rec. September 2011, Mosfilm Studios, Moscow
STERLING CDS1103-2 [61:28]
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Suite in five movements Op.93 (1934) [22:57]*
Symphony in F sharp minor Op.10 (1894) [40:10]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Christof Escher*
Moscow SO/Christof Escher (Symphony)
rec. May 2004, Radiotelevisione Svizzera Lugano (Suite), September 2011, Mosfilm Studios, Moscow (Symphony)
STERLING CDS1104-2 [63:07]
Although Paul Juon’s compositional oeuvre focussed to a large extent on piano and chamber music, here we have two volumes devoted to his orchestral music. He was born in Moscow in 1872 of Swiss parentage, with his mother boasting some Scottish ancestry. In 1889, aged seventeen, he was admitted to the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied violin with Jan Hřímalý and composition with Anton Arensky and Sergei Taneyev. His musical studies were completed in Berlin at the Hochschule für Musik with Woldemar Bargiel. Working in Berlin, he translated Anton Arensky’s ‘Practical Studies in Harmony’ into German as well as Modest Tschaikovsky’s biography of his brother. He published his own book on practical harmonics in 1901. During this time he was employed by Joseph Joachim as a professor of composition. His students included Werner R. Heymann, Nikos Skalkottas and Gunnar Johansen. He retired to Switzerland in 1934 and died in Vevey in 1940. Despite being a contemporary of Scriabin and Schoenberg, Juon eschewed modern trends such as serialism and atonality. His music is markedly tonal and straddles the period of late Romanticism and Modernism. Throw into the melting pot Brahms, Russian Romanticism and Tchaikovsky, and there you have it.
A carillon peal and sweeping harp arpeggios evokes the Town Hall clock in Copenhagen. This was Juon's inspiration for the magical orchestral fantasy Vaegtervise (Fantasy on Danish Folk Songs), Op.31, written around 1904. The famous clock went on to play the ‘Watchman's song’, and this the composer incorporated into the work. Other folk songs used are ‘Dronning Dagmar’ (Queen Dagmar) and ‘Ridderen i Lunden’ (Knights in the grove). The carillon returns at various points. The work is very Russian sounding, with Balakirev, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky discernible influences. Rimsky’s ‘Russian Easter Festival Overture’ was no doubt at the forefront of Juon’s mind during composition. A year before Vaegtervise came the Symphony in A major, Op.23, penned in Berlin and premiered two years later in Meiningen by the Brahms disciple Fritz Steinbach. It is Juon’s Second Symphony. The first movement is a loosely etched passacaglia, which concludes with a double fugue, the composer proving an accomplished contrapuntalist. A sprightly little Scherzo comes next, followed by a Romanza, which contains some luscious woodwind writing. It has quite a sombre Russian feel to it. In total contrast, the finale emerges more confident and assured, Juon's colourful orchestration adding forcefully to the allure.
Volume 2 opens with the Suite in five movements, Op.93 from 1934. It comprises five short movements, the opening Vorspiel reminds me of Morning from Grieg’s Peer Gynt. Juon was certainly a fine melodist, as this Suite proves. A quirky little waltz is next on the menu, preceding a soulful Nachtstück, for strings alone, a movement glowing with tender lyricism. The orchestra's serene pianissimos are heart-warming. The exotic character of the Caucasian serenade sounds the most Russian of the five pieces. The work ends with an uplifting march in which a piano and xylophone are harnessed for effect. The Symphony in F sharp minor is an early work, composed by Juon in his early twenties. Yet It is an accomplished score, and there is much to savour. Interestingly, it was long thought to be lost. The composer’s grandson discovered it, and in 2011 it was edited and performed by Chrisof Escher. The first movement has some echoes of Borodin and Balikirev, and Juon peppers the music with some oriental tints. There follows a Russian-sounding slow movement, which the notes state could almost be by Tchaikovsky; I couldn’t agree more. A brass fanfare heralds in a buoyant Scherzo. The finale begins with a brief adagio introduction, which leads into an assertive molto allegro. To add contrast the second subject is a broad sweeping melody.
Chrisof Escher directs compelling performances, and all the music is warmly recorded. For those wishing to explore this remarkable music, I would suggest Vol. 1 for starters. It is certainly the most appealing of the two discs.