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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Piano Music - Volume One
Vier Klavierstücke, Op.65 (1915) [12:35]
Intime Harmonieen: 12 Impromptus, Op.30 (1905) [34:40]
Moments Lyriques, Op.56 (1913) [27:33]
Rodolfo Ritter (piano)
rec. 2016, Sala Blas Galindo, Centro Nacional de las Artas, Mexico
TOCCATA TOCC0290 [74:53]

After decades of neglect Paul Juon is making modest inroads largely due to the patronage of CPO and Sterling. His orchestral music and string quartets have duly surfaced as has his interestingly conceived music for two violins and piano but his piano music has not yet been so fortunate. Thus, it’s good to welcome this latest Toccata disc that, naturally, presents all-premiere recordings

There are three cycles spanning the decade between 1905 and 1915 written when he was steadily earning prestige as a teacher in Berlin. Of a Swiss family that had emigrated to Russia, his training had been under Taneyev and Arensky for composition and the Czech leader of the emergent Moscow Violin School, Jan Hřimalý.

The 1915 Klavierstücke are delightful miniatures full of joyful lyricism and in part Gallic hue – the second of the sequence is a cradle song that sounds very much like a Fauré chanson. There are Eastern tints in the third of the four which may strike the unsympathetic ear as either opportunistic or mildly vaudevillian but the Russian dance that concludes, which sounds Glazunovian, is highly attractive if a little domesticated. The Twelve Impromptus, called Intime harmonieen are programmed next but were written earlier, in 1905. The set opens with the virtuosic wave motion of Wogen, a pleasingly virtuosic affair, before Juon goes on to display his panoply of wares with more hints of the exotic East, romantic declamation (somewhat Brahmsian in fact), a skittish Sprite-like dance, shadowy quotations from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and an altogether fin-de-siècle domestic teaser of a Narretei. Just to deepen things he concludes with the calmness and serenity of Ruhige Liebe and confounds these moods by ending with a funereal Zu Grabe tragen.

It is clear by now that Juon’s piano music, compressed and organised as it is into small-sized sets, enjoys an easy lyricism and some stylistic variety. It reserves brief moments of portentous depth but in the main is approachable, even airy and beautifully laid out – or at least sounds so in these splendid performances by Rodolfo Ritter even if there is no other performance against which to measure him. The final piece here is Moments Lyriques which reprises qualities of compressed characterisation, stylisation, limpid refinement and technical demand. Thus, there are antique-sounding bagpipe and drone imitations in the opening Menuet, followed by movements that explore languid melancholia, colourful dances, and verdant warmth. On no account overlook the ravishing Intimité though the moto perpetuo challenges of the Etude can’t be argued against either.

Ritter has written his own articulate and insightful booklet notes and practises what he preaches in highly persuasive performances recorded well. An auspicious start to the series.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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