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Paul JUON (1872-1940)
Three Miniatures: Op.18a Nos 3, 7, 6; Op.24a No.2 (1901-04) [10:49]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Eight Pieces, Op.83 (1909) [43:05]
Friedrich Wilhelm VOIGT (1833-1894)
Nocturne, Op.75 (1880) [5:31]
Søren Birkelund (clarinet)
Ulrikke Høst-Madsen (cello)
Merete Westergaard (piano)
rec. 2017, Garrison Church, Copenhagen

Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces have become increasingly visible on disc, and sometimes in recital, even though the composer himself counselled against performing the whole set in concert. A large part of the reason must have been because the pieces are complete units in themselves and don’t observe any over-arching structural or cyclical imperative. This matters much less on disc, naturally, as this latest recording of Op.83 shows. They were first performed by Bruch’s clarinetist son Max Felix in 1909 and after a Cologne performance the eminent conductor Fritz Steinbach wrote admiringly of the performance to the composer, lauding Max Felix’s tone and phrasing.

Only the last two of the eight are in sonata form but all offer the leading instruments, the clarinet and viola, opportunities for rich lyrical and expressive freedom. The piano is the subordinate partner and some of the arpeggio-like writing for that instrument hints at the possibility, which Christopher Fifield suggests in his biography of the composer, that Bruch had originally thought of using a harp but backed away because of the likelihood that this would limit sales amongst the amateur market for which the set was largely aimed. The variation of texture, colour and tempo in these pieces allows the trio room for expressive latitude, notably in the third of the set, a slow and nourishing piece, and in the succeeding Sturm und Drang elements of the fourth, an Allegro agitato. Perhaps the most distinctive is the Romanian Melodie, which is perhaps surprisingly the only time in the set that Bruch, well known for his cultivation of folk melodies, employs such a device. The sixth of the set is a liquid nocturnal, and almost as good.

Paul Juon’s four Trio-Miniaturen derive from two source works. The first three are from his Satyre und Nymphen cycle of nine piano pieces, of which the composer then arranged three for this combination, though he also sanctioned the use of violin or clarinet, cello or viola and piano. The remaining piece is the Danse phantastique from Tanzrhythmen III, IV and V. The notes are very spare on this point and don’t mention the source material and in point of fact I think the opus numbers should be adjusted from Danacord’s to show the arranged version – thus Op.18a and 24a in preference to Opp. 18 and 24. In any case these delightful pieces are full of Tchaikovskian melody and assurance, rich with counter-melodies and affectionate distribution of material.

The envoi is much the least-well known, the Nocturne, Op.75 by the bandmaster Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, in which salon effusiveness and military confidence bed down nicely together.

Though the gatefold card is lacking in booklet-style documentation, the performances, like the recording, are well crafted, technically accomplished, and generous.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: John France


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