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Georgy CATOIRE (1861-1926)
Revived Masterpieces
String Quintet, Op. 4a [31:18]
Andante for String Quartet (1886) [9:07]
Piano Trio, Op. 14 (1899-1902) [29:59]
Deux Poèmes, Op. 34 (1924-26) [6:12]
Catoire Ensemble
rec 2015, Power Sound Studio, Amsterdam

Catoire’s Piano Trio is the only familiar (the word is used in a relative sense) work in this in exploratory disc. The String Quintet in the programme is not the Op.16 of 1909 which has been recorded before but a much earlier work and it, the Andante for string quartet and the Deux Poèmes, are new to disc.

Catoire unveiled a string quartet in September 1886 at a private concert to which Tchaikovsky and Taneyev were invited. Despite the general admiration for it, Catoire was unsatisfied and retained just the Andante, and that only because Tchaikovsky had autographed this part of the score adding some comments. Shortly thereafter Catoire wrote another quartet, which was again unpublished and believed lost, but reworked it into the String Quintet heard in this disc. The manuscript, and that of the surviving Andante movement, were rediscovered in the Glinka Museum a few years ago. The String Quintet has now been assigned opus Op.4a, given that the second iteration of the quartet was Op.4. After all that you’d hope it was good, and you wouldn’t be too far wrong. It’s a conventionally demarcated four-movement, half-hour work. It reveals its Tchaikovskian inheritance with a long-breathed melancholy lyricism but can turn on the high spirits, adding pungent little cello motifs in the pizzicato-laden Scherzo which slowly, balletically, glides into a B section of musing, childlike stasis. There’s an affecting and effective slow movement and a dashing finale. All in all this is worthwhile, indeed valuable restoration that shows how Catoire tenaciously reassembled material and, by adding a second cello, created a viable new work.

The Andante from the original quartet is slow and intense, though Tchaikovsky himself, despite his enthusiasm, did not overlook the seams in the original work, and indeed there are a few constructive loose ends in this nine-movement slow movement; Catoire’s natural gift for melody, however, supervenes. The Deux Poèmes is a late diptych, composed a few years before Catoire’s death and published posthumously. The first has a halting, quasi-improvisatory quality whilst the second is especially poetic and in his richest vein.

Which leaves the Piano Trio where Tchaikovsky’s influence, with an admixture from Arensky, and a three-movement structure, ensures its stormy emotionalism is adroitly channelled. Catoire places considerable burdens on the pianist but graciously allows a central scherzo to unfold with a slow central lyric centre. This is where he also locates the folkloric element of his work. The members of the Catoire Ensemble – pianist Anna Zassimova, violinist Boris Tsoukkerman and cellist Stephan Heber – dig in trenchantly where required but are flexible and elegant in the work’s finale, taking technical problems in their stride and paying proper attention to the work’s brooding climax.

I shouldn’t omit the other members of the ensemble, the ever-excellent violinist Maria Milstein, who leads the Quintet, violists Julia Dinerstein and Sebastiaan van Halsema and cellist Ketevan Roinishvili. There are fine notes, a good though very slightly hard recording, and attractive presentation. If you know the Violin Sonatas, the later String Quintet and the Piano Quintet, as well as the published String Quartet, Op.23, you might well want to visit these earlier examples of Catoire’s chamber music, so long hidden but now thankfully made available.

Jonathan Woolf

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