Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sextet in B?,
Piano Quintet in E?,
Gianluca Luisi (pn);
NAXOS 8.570790 (71:51)
Though Ludwig Thuille (1861–1907) is perhaps best remembered today for his association with Richard
Strauss, he was an admirable pianist and composer in his own right. After having been orphaned at the age of 11—the deaths of both of his parents occurring in the short span of only five years—Thuille was fortunate enough to be taken in by family in Kremsmünster, in Upper Austria. It was here that he became a chorister in the Benedictine Abbey, which allowed him to study music: the piano, the organ, the violin, and composition. In 1876, through the generous support of the widow of the composer and conductor Matthäus Nagiller, he moved to Innsbruck, where he continued his studies in theory, piano, and organ with Joseph Pembauer, and where he made his first acquaintance with Richard Strauss. A few years later he went to study with Josef Rheinberger at the Königliche Musikschule in Munich. It was in this city that he met one of his most important musical influences, the man who introduced him to the works of Richard Wagner, Alexander Ritter. Thuille went on to teach composition and theory at the Akademie der Tonkunst (the then renamed Königliche Musikschule), where he exuded his own influence on the following generation—students such as Ernest Bloch and Hermann Abendroth were among his more famous pupils. Throughout his unfortunately short life, he cultivated a conservative style of composition somewhere between Brahms and Reger, writing in many prevalent genres: opera, symphony, and concerto; but perhaps his most important contributions come in the realm of chamber music.
The music presented here shows the composer’s mastery of larger formal structures, and perhaps because of the sextet’s unique instrumentation, a good, even mature, sense of that Wagnerian color that Ritter’s influence imparted. Thuille’s use of timbre is evident everywhere, from the delicate pizzicato fugato theme in the
of the quintet to the opening gestures of the piano murmur and solo horn entry in the
of the sextet, where at least in the latter example, the ensemble has a bit too cool an approach with the music for my taste. There is a grandeur that is missing. In the larger movements, I often wished for more—more momentum, bigger climaxes, greater overall passion. The strengths of these musicians lie then, perhaps, in the same places as that of the composer: the shorter movements. I came away with the impression, at least in the masterly third-movement Gavotte in the sextet, that Thuille was the long-lost Austrian cousin of Edvard Grieg. There is a fantastical, almost fairytale-like quality to this dance movement, one that is magnified in its simplicity of design, and its ever-changing and clever use of instrumentation—one that is also brought out best by the ensemble, which here captures the spirit of the music perfectly.
This is music that is too little known, and music that would appeal to anyone interested in late 19th-century Germanic music, from Bruckner and Strauss to Reger and Schmidt. Though I sometimes came away with the feeling that these musicians have a rather cool acceptance of the greatness of this music, instead of an active engagement and re-creation of it, there are far too many moments of good, solid music-making not to recommend this release, which is, in addition, recorded in very good sound. A treat at the price.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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