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Jacqueline Fontyn (b. 1930)
Klaviertrio (1956)
La fenêtre ouverte (1997)
Aube (1998)
Lieber Joseph! (2007)
Ferne Spuren (2009)
Fille du vent (2013)
Trio Spilliaert
Apolline Degoutte (flute)
Raphaël Béreau (guitar)
Karel Coninx (viola)
rec. 2021, Dada Studios, Brussels, Belgium
CYBELE SACD 362204 [60]

Cybele has previously championed the music of Jacqueline Fontyn with a release of some of her orchestral works (review), and there is a triple review of further releases here. I must confess to being unfamiliar with her work until encountering this recent Cybele release of various chamber works, all of which are trios of one kind or another.

The composer has written booklet notes for this release, to which I will be referring a fair bit in this review. The Piano Trio from 1956 was written not long after Fontyn had completed her studies as a composer. It can initially seem a bit gnarly in its abstract idiom, and with its language reflecting “the start of a constant evolution.” The forms used are however quite classical, with sonata form in the first movement, A-B-A song-like structure in the second, and with a lively fugue in the third. This is a piece full of bravura technique and must be very rewarding to play. One or two listens and it snaps into focus, and while it is by no means ‘easy listening’ it is by no means aversive, the final Allegro risoluto having some Bartók in its rhythmic character.

La fenêtre ouverte is associated with the painter Pierre Bonnard, for whom Fontyn has great admiration. Similar in length to the previous Piano Trio, this work is in five sections, forming a suite with the subtitles of each part inspired by François Couperin. Working with textures and translucent instrumentation, Fontyn's earlier abstractness has acquired a luminous quality here that reflects Bonnard's own thoughts on the painted surface, “constantly finding new combinations of shapes and colours to meet the demands of emotion.” Another homage, this time to the Belgian poet Carlo Masoni, Aube is rich with nocturnal murmurings that are a response to poetry reproduced in the booklet: “And this time once again from the exhausted night / Unfurls the motionless certainty of the hills.” Originally for flute, guitar and piano, the substitution of a violin creates the homogeneity of strings bowed, plucked and struck in a piece with powerful atmospheric impact.

With all of these pieces arranged in chronological order, that previously mentioned ‘constant evolution’ is a strong feature in this programme. Lieber Joseph! (Dear Joseph!) is a piece connected with the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death, and is based on that composer's last piano sonata, No. 62 in E flat major. With three movements, this work follows the form of Haydn's piano trios and sonatas (so much for the Piano Trio being her “the last time I used classical forms”) and is filled with references to that particular sonata. Fontyn describes this compact piece as evocative of Haydn, with its “general atmosphere, rather hectic and joyful overall”.

Ferne Spuren (Distant Tracks) came about as the result of a commission for Louis Spohr's anniversary in 2009. There is less of a connection to Spohr here than with Haydn in the previous work, beyond a four-movement structure that can be seen as inspired by Spohr's own piano trios. The letters of his name create a tone cell that is also used, and Fontyn's idiom again seems to form a logical contemporary extension of an elder composer's ideas and techniques. The sonorities of the conventional piano trio range far and wide, with an equality of status amongst the instruments that creates a memorable effect, in particular in the misterioso of the finale. The programme concludes with Fille du vent (Daughter of the Wind), another piece inspired by poetry, this time by Albert Roussel's mother Andrée Brunin, I would like to live. The wind is the thread holding this text together, but the flute is only one element in the ensemble able to express its Geräusche or sounds.

Texture and unconventional effects are always in the service of musical communication with Jacqueline Fontyn, and this fascinating programme is full of eloquent proof of her skill in creating involving and highly effective chamber music, from strength of concept to delivery in expert performances such as these. Cybele's recorded balance is flawless in each work in this recording, with plenty of clarity and definition for each instrument without taking away from that essential need for a blend of sound where the scores demand. Jacqueline Fontyn's work takes time and a little effort to appreciate fully, but I for one have found the experience more than worthwhile.

Dominy Clements

Trio Spilliaert: Jean-Samuel Bez (violin), Guillaume Lagravière (cello), Gauvin de Morant (piano)

Published: October 21, 2022

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