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After the Darkness
Hans KRÁSA (1899-1944)
Passacaglia and Fugue (1944) [9:08]
Tanec (1943) [5:48]
Gideon KLEIN (1919-1945)
String Trio (1944) [12:18]
László WEINER (1916-1944)
Serenade (1938) [13:11]
Dick KATTENBURG (1919-1944)
String Trio (1937-39) [5:48]
Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
String Trio, Op.48 (1950) [14:47]
The Hague String Trio
rec. 2018, Renswoude, Netherlands
COBRA 0065 [61:13]

The string quartet has been dominant in chamber music for centuries when it comes to serious repertoire, with the string trio in general regarded as more for lighter entertainment, certainly in and around the 18th century. This is but one positive reason for finding there is more substantial concert music for trio than you might have expected, and ensembles willing to play and record it.

The title for this CD, After the Darkness, refers to the experiences of World War II, and is taken from the title of a book by an Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, After the Darkness: Reflections on the Holocaust. Looking at the dates of most of the composers recorded here is telling.

Given the circumstances, you might expect these works to be unremittingly melancholy, but this is not the case. Hans Krása’s Passacaglia & Fuga begins with Beethovenian gravity, but the variations over the passacaglia also take on a rhythmic energy and at times a brief, song-like lightness that hints at the quixotic nature of Janáček’s string quartets. The Fuga is upbeat and animated: technically sophisticated and serious in intent, but lively and entertaining for all that. Krása’s Tanec or ‘Dance’ has some of the rhythmic edge of Bartók, but again reveals that ethereally tender and lyrical heart that only the Czech spirit seems able to conjure.

Gideon Klein was two decades younger than Hans Krása, and only just embarking on a promising career before being taken. The String Trio was his last work before being deported from Theresienstadt, and both Janáček and Bartók can be traced as influences, the style in general being more lyrical and accessible than some of his more avant-garde earlier works. The most substantial movement is the central Variations on a Moravian folk song, a searching and eloquent Lento that takes us into places both technically and emotionally remote from the original tune.

László Weiner’s Serenade is his earliest known work, and with his Hungarian roots it is Kodály who is the main influence here, though this is by no means a pastiche. Weiner uses his instruments to the greatest effect, and his melodic gift breathes both with a natural ease as well as an uncompromising lack of sentimentality.

The Hague String Trio’s discovery of the manuscript for Dick Kattenburg’s Trio ŕ cordes in the Nederlands Muziek Instituut is quite a coup for this release. The booklet reproduces both the title page, illustrated with a drawing of the intended players for the piece and doodles in the space underneath one of the parts, done with a clear sense of humour and reflective of the optimist who kept on composing even when the Netherlands was under Nazi occupation. In hiding from 1942, he was arrested in 1944 and deported first to Westerbork and thereafter to Auschwitz. At just under six minutes this is a surprisingly wide-ranging piece, summed up as ‘concise and powerful’ in Leo Samama’s booklet notes, and it does indeed deliver quite an impact, both in its rhythmic and emphatic outer sections and the soul-searching expressiveness of its central section.

Mieczysław Weinberg’s music has seen quite a renaissance in recent years, the appeal of his music no doubt attributable to its association with Shostakovich. This influence is quite apparent in the String Trio Op. 48, but as ever Weinberg’s skill takes us far beyond imitation, and we are reminded that this creative symbiosis was two-way. Weinberg’s Jewish roots can be heard in the klezmer style that colours the outer movements, and the soulful depths of the central Andante’s counterpoint take us to a suitably wintery place before the programme closes with the incessantly driving but measured weight of the final Moderato assai.

As far as alternatives go, you can explore Hans Krása’s trios with Ensemble Epomeo on the Avie Records label (review) in a well-produced recording and performances that tend more towards the romantic and are slightly less disciplined in terms of intonation than The Hague String Trio. Gideon Klein’s String Trio has been recorded many times but the version here can stand its own amongst the competition, even the all-star line-up Nimbus Records assembled for their ‘Forbidden Music’ album (review) that also includes the Krása trios. Weinberg’s Op. 48 has also received some attention, the ECM label attracting Gidon Kremer and friends (review) in a performance that is a bit more spiky and bleakly Russian-souled than the present version.

Well documented, superbly performed and recorded, this is as good an advertisement for the string trio as you could imagine, and I would be prepared to lay a bet that a majority of listeners would think this was a string quartet on a first encounter. This CD is also a fine testament to a group of composers who all suffered under the oppressive regimes of the mid-20th century; well worth anyone’s attention, and what the Dutch would call an ‘aanwinst’ for any collection of good chamber music.

Dominy Clements
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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