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Richard STÖHR (1874-1967)
Piano Trio in E flat major, Op.16 (1905) [49:15]
Three Songs for low voice with cello accompaniment, Op.21 (1909) [10:15]
Laura Roelofs (violin)
Stefan Koch (cello)
Mary Siciliano (piano)
Seth Keeton (bass-baritone)
rec. 2017, Brookwood Studio, Plymouth, Michigan, USA
Texts and translations included

This is the second volume in Toccata’s series of Richard Stöhr’s chamber music. In his review of the first disc, where you’ll find biographical detail about the composer’s life and many vicissitudes, Philip R Buttall was somewhat unimpressed. Here there is one main work, the Piano Trio of 1905, and a set of three songs for bass-baritone with the accompaniment of cello and piano.

The Piano Trio dates from a time when, having earned his PhD in Music in 1903, he had immediately joined his alma mater, the Vienna Academy, teaching courses in theory, composition and history of music. It’s tempting to see the work as somewhat academic, but it is certainly a clear example of Late Romanticism in action, with four hefty movements in its 49-minute girth. The sweetly lyric opening section suggests the direction of the first movement where the strings are lightly textured and the piano carries many of the technical difficulties. The Andante offers a series of seven variations on a March theme and whilst some of the faster ones are urgent, and indeed in one case stormy, the main impression remains one of airy and lyric generosity. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the whole work comes in the rather nostalgic, even ghostly trio of the Scherzo, a slowly unfolding tune that sits amidst the bustle of a rather conventionally forthright movement. Opening with an old school Grave section, the finale tends to lose focus though the writing itself is accomplished enough.

Perhaps the dictates of the time led Stöhr to the over-optimistic size of his trio, which doesn’t really bear its weight with consistently memorable themes or development. The Three Songs, by contrast, are concise pieces dating from 1909. There seems to be no evidence that he had in mind Brahms’ Zwei Gesänge, Op.91, written for voice, piano and accompanying viola, though absence of evidence, of course, doesn’t invalidate the suspicion that he might. In any case these are attractively contrastive songs. The first is a warmly textured, deft at word-setting and strong on the contemplative. The central song leaves less of an impression, whilst the third song, a setting of Goethe’s Dem aufgehenden Vollmonde, is by some way the best. It has more psychological depth, more expressive heft, and a more confident sense of place. I’m not sure the cello adds very much that couldn’t have been said without it.

The notes are good. The Trio was recorded over five sessions six or so months apart. The recording is perfectly fine and the performance nimble and light. Seth Keeton copes well with the songs, though there are hints of strain at a few points in the Goethe setting. Throughout Mary Siciliano gives sympathetic support.

Jonathan Woolf



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