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Johann Wilhelm WILMS (1772-1847)
Trio for flute, cello and piano [22.26]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Trio for flute, cello and piano, Op. 78 [15.45]
Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Fantasia concertante for flute, cello and piano, Op. 256 [14.45]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in G major, WoO 37 (1786-90) (arr. flute, cello and piano) [22.34]
Trio Wiek (Christina Fassbender (flute), Justus Grimm (cello), Florian Wiek (piano))
rec. June 2010 Siemens Villa, Berlin, Germany
PROFIL PH10045 [75.49]

Vox Balaenae
Ned ROREM (b. 1923)

Trio for flute, cello and piano (1960) [15.49]
Kaija SAARIAHO (b. 1952)
Cendres, for alto flute, cello and piano (1998) [9.58]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Trio for flute, cello and piano, H300 (1950) [17.27]
George CRUMB (b. 1929)
Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for electric flute, electric cello and amplified piano (1971) [21.27]
Trio Wiek
rec. April 2012 Reitstadel in Neumarkt, Germany
PROFIL PH12013 [65.10]

On the Profil label are two albums that have caught my attention from the ensemble Trio Wiek, released in the last few years. Trio Wiek was formed in the summer of 2001 by three prize-winners at the German Music Competition, Christina Fassbender (flute), Justus Grimm (cello) and Florian Wiek. In addition to their work with Trio Wiek all three members are heavily involved with teaching careers.

The first release consists of trios from the near contemporaries Wilms, Hummel, Czerny and Beethoven which were all written in the transitional period from the Classical to the Romantic era. The grouping of the piano with flute rather than violin was a common practice in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The note explains how the trio with flute and piano tends to be more virtuosic and often involves a set of variations as opposed to the more expressive writing for violin and piano.

The first work on the album is from the Cologne born Johann Wilhelm Wilms who worked extensively in Amsterdam and is best known for writing the Dutch national anthem. The trio thought to be an early composition from around the 1790’s is an attractive work, concise with simplicity of form. Compared to the other trios on the release I find it somewhat lacking in memorability. This is thought to be its first appearance on CD. Hummel was born in what is now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. In Vienna Hummel became associated with Mozart, with whom he had lessons, and also with Beethoven. Published as Adagio, Variations and Rondo the piano dominated trio is a set of variations based on the Ukrainian folk song Beautiful Minka infused with serious Romantic sentiment.

A prolific composer, Czerny was Vienna-born from a generation just after Hummel and Beethoven. Although the composer’s vast output is rather uneven in quality the Fantasia concertante for flute, cello and piano is a splendid, resolute work containing a mix of moods. There are technical challenges for the players who are given opportunities for solo display. The final and undoubtedly the finest work on the set is Beethoven Piano Trio in G major. Originally scored for flute, bassoon and harpsichord the score was written for the Elector of Cologne and is arranged here for flute, cello and piano. This uplifting score is delightful in its memorability with an especially sunny final movement theme and variations. Recorded at Siemens Villa, Berlin the sound engineers have provided good clarity and instrument balance although there is some slight distortion in the forte passages. The accompanying booklet contains basic information on each of the works and player biographies.

For a 2015 release Trio Wiek has turned its attention to twentieth-century music from the pens of four contemporary composers three of whom are still living. Titled Vox Balaenae (reads Vox Balenae on the booklet cover) the album features a controversial work by American post-modernist composer George Crumb.

First comes the trio from American composer Ned Rorem a Pulitzer Prize winner for music in 1976. Rorem studied under Copland in the USA and Nadia Boulanger and Honegger in France, soon coming under the influence of members of Les Six. From 1960 this is a craggy and weighty work, eminently accessible and certainly not lacking in lyrical and emotional content. A highlight, Rorem’s score is a real find. A name I am not too familiar with is Kaija Saariaho a Finnish composer who has been based in Paris since 1982. In Paris the composer studied at IRCAM, the electronic and electro-acoustic experimentation institute. Written in 1998 the single movement work Cendres (Ashes) for alto flute, cello and piano is a striking and fascinating work. Playing of immediacy and energy by the trio combine to create a radiant, near hypnotic experience.

Czech born Martinů absorbed a wide variety of music influences throughout his career, including Renaissance, Baroque, folk and jazz. He studied under Suk in Prague then whilst based in Paris studied under Roussel and became fascinated by the music of Stravinsky and Debussy. Uplifting and vibrant, Martinů’s trio from 1949 reminds me at times of Parisian nightlife, especially jazz clubs. The Allegretto scherzando section of the final movement is captivating in the joyous sense of exhilaration the players convey. American composer George Crumb’s music often merges contrasting musical styles. In a 1988 interview Crumb highlighted Debussy as an important influence on his composing career. He also acknowledges influences of many music traditions notably far eastern music. In Crumb’s Vox Balaenae the use of electronic amplification reinforces his unconventional sound world, emphasising the evocative and frequently mysterious quality of the writing. Whilst writing Vox Balaenae Crumb was “inspired by the singing of the humpback whale” a recording of which the composer heard in 1969. The work incorporates whale-song effects on the instruments, his observations on both the natural life of the earth and the connection that mankind has with the natural world. The timbral effects produced by the players are remarkable. In performance Crumb requires the players to wear black half-masks to enhance the theatrical atmosphere and he encourages playing under deep blue lighting. In the studio at Reitstadel in Neumarkt the engineering team provided clarity and excellently balanced sound. In the booklet there is concise information on each work together with biographies of the players.

Across both albums the playing of Trio Wiek is beyond reproach. The players display eloquence, phrase naturally and their unity is especially impressive. Both these releases will enhance a collection and the album of twentieth-century music is indeed exceptional.

Michael Cookson



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