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Henri BERTINI (1798-1876)
Nonetto, Op 107 in D major (ca. 1840) [34:03]
Grand Trio, Op 43 in A major (1836) [35:55]
Linos Ensemble
rec. 25-28 February 2020, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal
CPO 555 363-2 [70:07]

Born in London but in his prime a resident of Paris, pianist Henri Jérôme Bertini toured Europe as a child prodigy, and his career generated wide admiration both as a soloist and as a chamber musician. Unsurprisingly, he wrote a good deal of piano music as well as a couple of symphonies, and of his substantial catalogue of chamber works the Nonetto, Op 107 is amongst his greatest achievements.

Composed on a symphonic scale, the Nonetto has four movements, and it was considered by Berlioz to be “the work of a great musician with a lively and ardent imagination, who will grow stronger and more powerful if he refrains from his attempts to encourage applause as he occasionally sought to do in the first movement.” This opening Allegro vivace is full of ideas and is superbly written for the instruments employed: flute, oboe, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, viola, cello, double bass, and piano. Some passages owe something to Beethoven and perhaps Rossini, and it is true that grand gestures and repetitious build-ups in this nearly 14-minute extravaganza can become a bit heavy at times, but everything is done in a positive spirit and the result is a rousing experience. This is followed by a slow movement, La Mélancolie which Berlioz described as “so grandiose, at times so majestically sombre, that the sentiment of melancholy one expects is overshadowed by ideas of a much higher and rare order. ...this admirable work is not only melancholic, but also much more.” Not to let Berlioz do the heavy lifting in this review, but he’s not wrong. Bertini’s craftsmanship takes a fairly simple but gorgeously lyrical main idea and sustains it effectively over an eight minute span that is indeed melancholy, but manages to avoid becoming sentimental or too funereal, “without question a noble and magnificent inspiration whose sombre poetry reminds us of the sublime greatness of Beethoven's Sonatas.”

There is galloping wit and a lightness of touch in the relatively brief following Scherzo, and the democratic nature of Bertini’s treatment of each instrument and his idiomatic handling of their individual characters is brought out transparently here. Solos shine and resonant timbres blend superbly. The Finale has a fine impetus, delivering us to a resounding conclusion with some virtuoso high jinx along the way, both in terms of individual moments but also in the demands placed on the ensemble as a whole. I have nothing but admiration for the Linus Ensemble in their expressive warmth and ease of delivery in the entirety of this truly grand composition.

The Grand Trio, Op 43 actually times in a couple of minutes longer than the Nonetto, and it occupies a similarly verdant musical imagination; one that creates impressive and admirable material set into satisfying narrative forms but it has to be said, once heard, challenges you to remember anything you might find yourself whistling in the street. While the piano has plenty to do, it is once again Bertini’s restraint in its use that stands out, considering his pedigree as a performer. The violin and cello both have leading roles throughout the four movements in this work, of which Robert Schumann wrote that “all of the movements, excepting at most the scherzo, could have been shortened by a half and would achieve the same effect and even much more.” This is a remark with which the writer of the booklet notes, Eckhardt van den Hoogen, disagrees; this statement now having “lost all its validity.” I can see both points of view. Having suggested making cuts you might have stumped Schumann a little as to where these might in fact be done, even though there is a case for more compact musical discourse. Bertini’s passages are rarely insubstantial however, and everything fits into such a clarity and balance of form that in the end it would seem a shame to compress things. As a cyclist needs their ‘wobble’ to stay upright, Bertini needs his space to develop and explore that outpouring of musical inventiveness. With the Andante second movement “Bertini proves to be a master of trim gestures who is able to create a scenario with the simplest of means.” The Menuet has the elegant feel of a Schubertian waltz, and the Finale also has some dance-like features, with moments of bagpipe drone in the piano and vignette-like sections that give distinctly narrative, almost programmatic feel to the whole.

The booklet for this release is a somewhat circumspect but interesting education on Bertini’s life and career, and as a package this fine recording is certainly worth acquiring. This is substantial but fairly undemanding music which you can allow to wash over you like a big wave, or listen in detail and enjoy a rich source of refinement and seemingly endless creative talent. You won’t find these pieces recorded anywhere else as far as I can tell, so if you like your Romantic-era music not overly chromatic and harmonically perfumed there is much to be discovered and enjoyed here.

Dominy Clements

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