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Des Cordes Marines
Joseph-Ermend BONNAL (1880-1944)
Trio for violin,viola and cello (1934) [20:58]
Jean CRAS (1879-1932)
String Trio (1926) [24:43]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
String Trio, Op. 58 (1937) [13:07]
Ensemble Des Équilibres (Agnès Pyka (violin), Blandine Leydier (viola), Armance Quéro (cello))
rec. 2016, Couvent des Minimes. Pourrières 83, France
ARION ARN68836 [58:58]

One of the aims of the Ensemble Des Équilibres is to resuscitate forgotten masterpieces and bring them back to life. They've succeeded admirably here with chamber works of three French composers, who were roughly contemporary. Roussel's music has had a fair amount of mileage from the record labels. Cras and Bonnal are represented less; in fact the latter name I have never heard of before. Neither had the violinist Agnès Pyka until recently. She was approached by a member of the audience after a concert, who put the composer's name forward. Not having come across his music, some detective work revealed this String Trio from 1934, a work that satisfactorily complements the other two works on this fascinating compilation. As the CD title suggests, these are three string trios inspired by marine adventures and familiar coastal shores.

Joseph-Ermend Bonnal originated from Bordeaux. He could claim a distinguished pedigree, studying piano at the Paris Conservatoire with Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot, harmony with Antoine Taudou, composition with Gabriel Fauré and organ with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne. He forged a career as an organist and teacher of organ. His unassuming nature meant he didn't promote his compositions, and this has subsequently led to an unjust neglect of his music. His three-movement Trio was composed in 1934. It was championed by the Pasquier Trio who took it on tour, recorded it and won a Grand Prix du Disque. The three movements are titled: Bidassa; Navarra; Rapsodie du Sud. The opening movement has a relaxed and peaceful air about it. Navarra has a pensive and thoughtful character, with the sprightly, dance-like finale boasting geniality and charm.

Jean Cras was one of several French marine bards who found the ocean a source of inspiration. The composers Albert Roussel and Antoine Mariotte were also sea-faring gentleman. For Cras, his extensive sea travels brought him into contact with multifarious cultures, and the exoticisms of distant lands found their way into his music. His String Trio is no exception. It was written in 1926 on board a warship. Set in four movements, its cyclical model pays tribute to Franck. The first movement is rhythmically animated and radiates an affable demeanour. The Lento which follows is a sad lament, which offers some contrast. The jaunty 'guitar' pizzicatos of the third movement are an absolute delight. Towards the end Cras introduces some exotic colouring in the slightly off-pitch plucking he calls for from the players. The finale is vigorous, energetic and highly charged.

Roussel composed his Trio in the final year of his life, when he was in poor health. It was his last completed work. He penned it in the June and July of 1937, and died of a heart attack in August. It was premiered by the Pasquier Trio the following year at a memorial concert. The first two movements have an underlying melancholia and sombre tone. Did the composer know he had only a short time to live? Even the third movement's more upbeat rhythms fail to raise a true smile.

What immediately strikes me when I listen to these performances is the enthusiasm, musicality and devotion these players have for the music. They have fully captured the Gallic spirit and flavour of these captivating scores, which could have no better advocates. Added to that, they’ve been warmly recorded in an acoustic ideal for revealing both detail and nuance. As an ardent fan of French chamber music, I hope to hear much more from the Ensemble Des Équilibres in the future. Full marks to them!

Stephen Greenbank



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