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Chasing Chausson and Some Brief Ysaye's

Chaussson/Ysaye: Music for Violin, Cello, and Piano Bruno Monteiro, violin. Miguel Rocha, cello. Joao Paulo Santos, piano. Etcetera KTC 1729 Total Time: 60:12 Recording: (*)***/**** Performance: ****/****

Music from the Fin de Siecle is often overlooked by the appearance of Debussy’s new musical style. But the late French Romantic composers continued to build on the grand style of Berlioz and the developments of Liszt and Wagner’s chromatic innovations in music that sometimes has an almost Gothic feel. Into that fascinating time comes the music by two composers that sometimes are at the fringes of consciousness, Ernst Chausson (1855-1899) and Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931). The former’s life tragically cut short with music that often was not as appreciated in his time. The latter, one of the great violinist noted for his Romantic excesses and warm sound learned from his studies with Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps and which was brought further into the 20th Century by Fritz Kreisler. Ysaye also briefly conducted the Cincinnati Orchestra (1918-1922).

The composer Ernest Chausson’s output may be relatively small, but his music is among the finest of late 19th Century French Romantic style. Franck, D’Indy and Massenet are contemporaries whose music is closest stylistically to Chausson. He bears some connection also to the growing cult of Wagner that cast its shadow across the century. It is in his harmonic writing that we get a glimmer of that “influence” with its own Gallic flavor, coupled with a sense of thematic writing that builds on the cyclic approaches of his French contemporaries. His chamber music in particular is often quite moving and engaging. In this new release we get a chance to hear his first essay in the genre the Op. 3 Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in g (1881-1882). A cyclic thematic idea helps provide one linking aspect across the work (introduced by violin in the opening movement). The outer movements have the ghost of a sonata form construction to help guide the listener across the architecture of the piece itself. It is in the central movements where some of Chausson’s magic really occur. The second movement scherzo has a delightful flickering motif that runs about with some rather light, and humorous interplay. The slow movement has that simple, poetic beauty one finds in Faure, perhaps. It is like a musical dream with the cyclic theme feeling more reflective and somber. The work is quite enchanting and ends rather starkly. All of that is made more so by the performance here. The opening movement is given its due well, but the central movements bring out the ensemble’s interaction well in the scherzo. There is much lyrical writing here as well which is beautifully-performed both by Monteiro and Rocha. The phrasing and articulation are matched equally well. The piano’s impassioned harmonic interjections add the proper energy and forward momentum.

The second half of the album is devoted to two pieces by Ysaye written around the first decade of the new century. Both have that musical connection to the likes of Franck and Saint-Saens but with some of the new ideas beginning to catch hold from the work of Debussy. Astute listeners will also perhaps hear a little echo of Chausson here as well. That is somewhat the case in the first Poem Elegiaque, Op. 12 for violin and piano. This is the piece that would inspire Chausson to write his own Poem for Ysaye (one of the more popular concert pieces by the composer). Faure’s sensibility provides a distant echo in the work—he was the dedicatee. Ysaye’s inspiration was drawn from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which puts it in the category of other dramatic work inspired by the playwright. The dark, and often somber moments are enhanced by retuning the lowest string on the violin a whole tone lower (from G to F). Ysaye does though move across the instrument with some equally higher writing of more impassioned quality. The harmony seems to shift effortlessly with a more angular melodic line also adding to the more contemporary sound of the work. The piano adds to the drama in this somewhat episodic work. You can also hear a bit of Debussy-like piano writing here in its chordal approaches. Monteiro provides a quite impassioned performance with rich tone, especially in the lower registral sections. The technical demands of the piece also make this attractive. The arc of the work is also well captured here. Sometimes the high end of the violin is captured a bit harshly.

The other piece here comes from around 1910 and shows Ysaye moving toward some further contemporary shifts (one being the absence of traditional time signatures—he used only a single number written above the score) and in more ambiguous scales. The Meditation-Poeme for cello and piano, Op. 16 will be another delightful discovery for people unfamiliar with Ysaye’s music and makes for an interesting comparison to his other earlier work. Again, the harmonic palette is most striking here with its flirtations with a sort of impressionist-romantic blend of sound.

For those who enjoy exploring rare chamber music, this release will be well worth seeking out especially for the rarer Ysaye. The trio recording is well balanced and imaged quite well with the piano placed nicely in the sound picture. In the solo works, the miking feels just a tad closer which sometimes seems to pinch the sound a bit on the higher end. There are also some minor editing splices in the latter Ysaye work. It is not enough to distract though from the otherwise fine performances here. An interesting pairing that works well to introduce listeners to two important composers from this era of French/Belgian Music.


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