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Désiré PÂQUE (1867-1939)
Piano Trio No 1, Op 46 (1903) [26:24]
Adagio Sostenuto, Op 39 – Violin and Piano (1899) [7:19]
Piano Trio No 2, Op 98 (1923) [17:23]
Lento Cantabile, Op 89 – Cello and Piano (1917) [5:07]
Piano Trio No 3, Op 115 (1930) [16:06]
Trio Spilliaert
rec. 23-26 July 2020, Auditorium d'Art2, Mons, Belgium
CYPRES CYP8609 [72:46]

Since I suppose that Désiré Pâque's name and music are unfamiliar to many, a short piece of history is in order. He was born in Liège and entered the Conservatory at the age of 15 and he was to remain there as a teacher for a few years. He also made a reputation as a performer for as a pianist he gave a concert tour in Italy with the renowned violinist César Thomson. He was a multifaceted musician, known as a composer, pianist, organist, conductor, theorist and pedagogue who spent the early years of his career travelling throughout Europe. He went first to Bulgaria where he became interested in local folk music. Later on, he was in Athens as conductor and teacher (piano and composition) at the Conservatory. Later still, he lived in Portugal as Court choirmaster and organ teacher at the Lisbon Conservatory. He then travelled in England, Switzerland and Germany. In 1914, he finally settled in Paris as organist at the church of Saint-Louis d'Antin. He spent the rest of his life in France, obtaining French nationality in 1927. He died in Bessancourt on 20th November 1939. Incidentally, he was married four times.

His numerous peregrinations never stopped him from composing prolifically and his output includes eight symphonies (the Fifth is for chorus and orchestra), three concertos, ten string quartets, pieces for organ and for piano, three masses, a Requiem, an opera Vaïna and the three piano trios recorded here. Needless to say, very little of all this music is known, let alone recorded. To my knowledge, three discs have been entirely devoted to his music. His five piano sonatas have been recorded by Diane Andersen and available on Koch-Schwann 3-1719-2 whereas five string quartets have also been recorded and available on Koch-Schwann 3-1378-2 (String Quartets No 2, No 5 and No 7) and Schwann CD 310 082 H (String Quartets No 4 and No 3). These discs may still be available from Musique en Wallonie. Obviously what has so far been recorded (including this brand-new release under review) is but the tip of the iceberg. The picture of Désiré Pâque would not be complete if one did not mention that he befriended Busoni and so became familiar with the advanced musical trends of his time. Some go so far as to say that he wrote atonal music before Schoenberg - but I will leave that point to musicologists. 

As can be seen in the details above, the three piano trios span almost thirty years of his composing career. The Piano Trio No 1, Op 46, completed in 1903, is a substantial and fairly ambitious piece of music that is at times redolent of César Franck but tonality is handled with considerable freedom. The first movement is an imposing portal into a work that aspires to reaching some heights, which to some extent it manages to do. It is followed by a fleet-footed Scherzo that soon gives way to a quite beautiful Adagio. The fourth movement Molto moderato begins with a slow introduction and soon leads into an animated dance probably collected or remembered from the composer's trip to Bulgaria. He cannot resist launching into a fugal section before ending the movement and the trio in elated spirits.

Composed some twenty years later, the Piano Trio No 2, Op 98 is at once a shorter, more compact and more personal work. Unlike the First Piano Trio, it is in three movements: a central energetic Allegro framed by two slow movements. The opening Lentissimo breathes some Impressionist air and is carried along with dissonant harmonies of no clearly defined tonality. The ensuing Allegro is full of energy couched in an idiom sometimes redolent of Ravel. In the quite beautiful Lento, Pâque abandons his more advanced manner and the music unfolds in a modal character, in full contrast to the tonal ambiguity prevailing in the preceding movements.

The Piano Trio No 3, Op 115 is again in three movements, though this time Pâque returns to the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern although without renouncing what may be regarded as his trademarks. The first movement begins with a slow introduction; the atonal writing already present in the Second Trio is still there but with greater harmonic, melodic and rhythmic freedom. The second movement Adagio in ABA form contrasts with its predecessor. The outer sections are almost tonal and the writing for the three instruments clearly unified, whereas the central section has the instrumental parts much more differentiated (again with no clearly defined tonality). The last movement Allegro con fuoco is yet again atonal and full of energy, although there are two calmer passages.

This generous release is completed with two shorter chamber works. The Adagio sostenuto Op 39 for violin and piano is a comparatively early work composed in 1899 and is exactly what one would expect from such a piece, since its tonality is clearly established from the start and the music is of great melodic charm, though it goes through a rather more vehement central section before resuming the opening mood. The somewhat later Lento cantabile Op 89 for cello and piano is not unlike the Adagio sostenuto, although it opens rather unexpectedly, with a great energy that seems to contradict the title of the piece. However, the music soon calms down and becomes intensely lyrical but the tonal unity is constantly broken up - though with a clear eye on the end tonality. This is clearly a short piece in which a lot of things happen.

The Spilliaert Trio, comprising Jean-Samuel Bez (violin), Guillaume Lagravière (cello) and Gauvain de Morant (piano), play these unfamiliar works as if they had known them all their lives. which says much for their commitment aided by some immaculate playing. Played as enthusiastically as it is here by these fine musicians, Désiré Pâque's music should at long last gain a well-deserved place among curious music lovers. The recording is excellent and Thierry Levaux's notes are a plus.

Hubert Culot

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