Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
String Trio No. 13 in A major [19:44]
String Trio No. 14 in C minor [20:04]
String Trio No. 15 in C Minor [14:49]
String Trio No. 16 in C-Sharp Minor [17:26]
Lendvai String Trio (Nadia Wijzenbeek (violin), Ylvali Zilliacus (viola), Maria Macleod (cello))
rec. June 2015 the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK

This is the fourth and final volume of the Lendvai String Trio’s series of the sixteen string trios by Julius Röntgen. I arrive late for this party, having not yet heard the earlier discs, which have been warmly, sometimes enthusiastically welcomed by other reviewers (see reviews of Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 and Volume 3. These reviewers describe a sense of lightness and amiability that pervades these late-career string trios. Volume 4, while admirably performed, contains darker, less carefree fare.

Trio No. 13 opens gently, with a warm con moto. The Andante tranquillo which follows is still tender, but rather exotic. An Allegro vivo e giocoso is a very civilized hoe-down. A rather sad finale brings the piece to an end with an air of resignation. Trio No. 14 has an austere opening, followed by an Andantino con tenerezza. The third movement galumphs along nicely. The final variation movement shows some drama and is one of the highlights of the disc. Trio No. 15 is noteworthy as a memento of Röntgen’s 1929 automobile tour of Northern Italy, bearing a dedication to his son, Englebert, who was “master-chauffeur” for this venture. The music is restful, but not especially Italianate. The trio opens with a Moderato featuring a sinuous second subject. The effect is very comforting, especially for a piece in C minor. A pizzicato-laced 'Un poco vivace' is similarly calming. The “Finale automobilistico” is more boisterous, recreating auto antics in sound.

In her excellent notes, Margaret Krill describes Trio No. 16 as music which “traps the listener into an oppressive atmosphere permeated with melancholy that never lets go.” An oddly laughing passage in the second movement serves to underscore the general sadness of the trio.

A sense of pessimism or resignation hovers over the disc as a whole. These are rather quiet, introspective works, mostly in minor keys, and with an autumnal quality we associate with late Brahms. They stand in sharp contrast to some of Röntgen’s extrovert compositions, such as the dramatic 1902 Violin Concerto in A minor, or the exuberant Piano Concerto No. 2.

Other reviewers have pointed out how conservative Röntgen’s String Trios are. This is true for the music in volume 4, written between 1925 and 1930. This may explain why these carefully written pieces were not published or performed in their own time. But listeners no longer need to declare allegiance to any side in a now ancient war between modernism and romanticism, so open your ears to Röntgen. Nadia Wijzenbeek, Ylvali Zilliacus, and Maria Macleod play this unfamiliar music with authority and affection, captured in fine recorded sound.

Richard Kraus

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