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Celebrating Women!
Miriam HYDE (1913-2005)
String Trio (1932) [16:40]
Emmy Frensel WEGENER (1901-1973)
Suite for violin, viola and cello (1925) [8:25]
Dame Ethel SMYTH (1858-1944)
String Trio in D major, Op.6 (c.1884) [29:27]
Irene Britton SMITH (1907-1999)
Fugue in G minor (1938) [5:14]
The Hague String Trio
rec. April 2021, Westvest90, Schiedam, The Netherlands
COBRA 0083 [60:01]

I last encountered The Hague String trio when they surveyed a selection of the music of Krása, Klein, Weiner, Weinberg and the less well-known Dick Kattenburg (review). Now their focus turns from musicians whose lives were fractured by the Second World War to an all-female selection.

Miriam Hyde, a poet as well as a musician, was Australian. Her String Trio was written in London where she studied and it was composed at a time when she was producing a raft of works both big (concertos) and small (this trio). You can hear her play her own Rachmaninovian piano concertos on an ABC disc that I reviewed many years ago. The trio is a charmer, very light and ‘classical’ – not neo-classical – with a graceful and elegant patina. Its mellifluousness is borne of a confidence and professionalism, with each movement neatly characterised. It’s hardly ground-breaking and would be good for students and amateurs to get their fingers around.

Justyna Briefjes (violin), Julia Dinerstein (viola) and Miriam Kirby (cello) are, of course, professionals to their fingertips, as they show in their performance of Emmy Frensel Wegener’s Suite. The Dutch composer was a poet too, and studied violin and composition in Amsterdam, later mastering the clarinet. Her Suite is a pithy divertimento-like affair irradiated with a real sense of Gallic-styled wit. It was composed in 1925 and includes a jaunty fugato, and some commedia dell’arte frolics elsewhere. Even the slow movement, though unfrivolous, isn’t saturnine-deep to show that ‘she could if she wanted to’: instead, she sticks to her musical guns. This is a genial, jovial piece offering plenty of fun.

The senior composer here is Ethel Smyth. I admit that I have problems with her music and it’s much the same with her weighty, half hour String Trio, composed around 1884 and thus one of her Leipzig works. She tended to the portentous in these years at a time when her admiration for Brahms was not matched by a commensurate rigour or melodic gift. It’s a very fluent piece, well laid out and follows established patterns. The work’s heart is a poignant Adagio which has a somewhat folkloric B section, but perhaps the movement that is the most individual is the finale with its good range of contrasts and verve.

The last composer selected is Irene Britton Smith, born in Chicago in 1931 and of mixed black and Native American background. She is apparently on record as objecting to being called a black composer or a female composer or even as a ‘real’ composer as she wrote so little – though she left her scores to a black organisation – so I’m not sure how she would have appreciated being contextualised in an all-female disc of this kind. Her Fugue was written in 1938, apparently as an exercise, and it is not of huge interest.

The performances are excellent and they’ve been well recorded. Good notes too. Temperamentally and musically I am most drawn to Wegener, though, or because, her Suite is deliberately light-hearted. Smyth will be the main draw, commercially, of course, and the Hyde trio could win some friends. The disc’s title might well celebrate women, but these are very different types of women writing very different trios from different traditions. They are all apparently world premiere recordings which is another feather in Cobra’s cap.

Jonathan Woolf

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