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Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Serenade in C, Op. 10 (1902) [21:48]
Jean FRANCAIX (1912-1997)
String Trio No. 1 (1933) [13:10]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
String Trio, Op. 19 (1944) [16:45]
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 1954, Konzerhaus, Vienna

The string trio which made these recordings in the Konzerthaus, Vienna in 1954 was the brainchild of violinist Jean Pougnet, soloist and concertmaster of the London Philharmonic 1942-45. He established the group before the war with William Primrose on the viola in the original line-up. He was later replaced by Frederick Riddle, who appears on this recording. An early foray into the studio in 1941 resulted in a captivating recording of the Moeran String Trio, reissued on Divine Art 27808 (review). Eleven years later, in 1952, they set down a Beethoven String Trio cycle, reissued by Forgotten Records, which I had the pleasure of reviewing a couple of years ago. The same label has also released their recording of three of the six 1783 string trios by Charles Henry Wilton (1761-1832), a composer I hadn’t previously encountered (review).

I first became acquainted with Dohnányi’s Op.10 Serenade for string trio in the Heifetz/Primrose/Feuermann recording of 1941. It has a striking similarity to Beethoven's Serenade Op. 8. Both begin and end with marches, and the penultimate movements are a set of variations. Dohnányi’s Serenade is in five movements, whereas Beethoven's is in six. I've not listened to the piece for several years, and returning to it for this review, I can fully understand its enduring popularity. In fact it is one of the composer’s most often recorded works. Who can fail to be won over by the buoyant opening march, effusive Romanza and invigorating Scherzo? The variations are imaginatively constructed and the cheery Rondo is guaranteed to lift the spirits.

Again, it was the Heifetz recording, this time partnered by Gregor Piatigorsky and Joseph de Pasquale, that provided my initial introduction to the String Trio of Jean Francaix. Composed in 1933, it’s the work of a young man (he was 21 at the time) and the music radiates Gallic wit, elegance, and élan. It's cast in four movements. The first charms, with its rapid scurrying and delicious pizzicatos. A crisply articulated Scherzo follows, then an ardent Andante, both tender and beguiling, providing some welcome contrast. A neoclassical finale, effervescent and intoxicatingly infectious, rounds off proceedings.

Berkeley’s String Trio, Op. 19, dates from 1943, and bears a dedication to Frederick Grinke, Watson Forbes and James Phillips, the trio who premiered the score at the Wigmore Hall in 1944. In three movements, the outer ones sound quite turbulent and uneasy, with the finale revealing some more than competent contrapuntal scoring and heart-wrenching emotion. These movements frame a central Adagio, a haven of serenity and calm.

The players clearly have great affection for this music, and deliver performances of compelling musicianship and authority. What stands out for me is their warmth and flawless ensemble. The recordings derive from Westminster LPs, and I have to commend Forgotten Records on their excellent remasterings.
Stephen Greenbank



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