Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quintet in D,
Theme and Variations for Two Cellos and Piano,
String Sextet in D
Hamburg Chamber Players
TOCCATA 0080 (77:56)
Being the incurable chamber music addict that I am, Ferdinand Thieriot (1838–1919) has not escaped feeding my habit. His B?-Major Octet, performed by Ensemble Acht, on a Thorofon CD long ago found its way onto my shelf, a disc which
John Lambert briefly reviewed in issue 20:2. The specific works on the
new to me, as they would be, since they are said to be first time recordings, a claim that doesn’t surprise me, as Thieriot’s works remain a rarity on disc. The only other entry for the composer in the
Archive is a very recent recording of his Clarinet Quintet, reviewed by Richard A. Kaplan in 35:5.
It surprises me that Thieriot’s catalog has gone almost untapped by record companies until now, but with the arrival of this Toccata Classics CD, that’s about to change in a big way, for this release is announced as Volume 1 of the composer’s chamber music, and what is to come is not insignificant, for Thieriot wrote four piano trios, 13 string quartets, two octets, a Flute Quartet, a Wind Quintet, a number of sonatas, and, of course, the String Sextet, Piano Quintet, and Theme and Variations on this disc. That should keep the folks at Toccata Classics busy for some time to come.
If you’ve not previously encountered Thieriot, his name might lead you to believe he was French, but he was actually German, born and raised in the same town of Hamburg as was Brahms. The two budding composers were in fact well acquainted with each other, both taking lessons from the same teacher, Eduard Marxsen. Later, in Munich, Thieriot became yet another pup in one of the countless litters sired by Josef Rheinberger. Thieriot remained lifelong friends with Brahms, but while the elder composer moved to Vienna, one of Europe’s most “happening” musical centers of the day, Thieriot eventually moved back to Hamburg, not particularly a hotbed of musical activity, where he remained for the last two decades of his life. As a career move, this was probably a mistake.
A further miscalculation by Thieriot, if one is inclined to call it that, was to cultivate a somewhat conservative or dated style of writing which looked back to Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann rather than ahead to the more progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Album note author Walter Zielke links Thieriot to like-minded composers such as Carl Reinecke, Theodor Kirchner, Friedrich Kiel, and Robert Volkmann. It’s said that only towards the end of his life did Thieriot come under the influence of Liszt and Wagner, but by then the “New German Music School” was itself yesterday’s news.
Lastly, through no fault of Thieriot, the archive holding his unpublished manuscripts ended up in Leningrad after World War II, thus becoming virtually inaccessible to the Western music world during the Cold War. All of this goes a long way towards explaining Thieriot’s virtual disappearance from the mainstream repertoire.
For me, personally, a late 19th-/early 20th-century composer who writes chamber works in an unapologetically mid 19th-century romantic idiom is an asset, not a liability. And for those of similar predilections, whose hunger for more of the same takes them on a quest beyond the established masterworks of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, Thieriot does not disappoint. Overshadowed by the three great piano quintets of the period—those by Schumann, Dvo?ák, and Brahms—are some of the most gorgeous specimens you will ever hear. Just a few of them, written between the Schumann (1842) and the Dvo?ák (1887), include in chronological order, piano quintets by Théodore Gouvy (1850), Saint-Saëns (1855), Joachim Raff (1862), Borodin (1862), Reinecke (1865), Sgambati (1866), Hermann Goetz (1874), Herzogenberg (1876), Anton Rubinstein (1876), Franck (1879), Goldmark (1879), and Ludwig Thuille (1880). And sandwiched approximatelyin between them comes Thieriot’s D-Major Piano Quintet of 1869, though the composer revised it 25 years later in 1894.
Even for me, there are times when words truly fail to convey the beauty of a work, and this is one of them. The most prevalent influence in the quintet seems to be Schumann, but Schumann could not have crafted a work of such expansiveness, such outpouring of nonstop melody, and such sustained generosity of emotional expression. Hearing this work, it’s hard not to shout, “MASTERPIECE!” This is going on my next Want List for sure.
The String Sextet in D Major is without opus number and the album note gives no date for it composition, telling us only that it’s one of 29 of Thieriot’s manuscripts returned to Hamburg and published since 1991. Based on the sound of the piece, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s a much later work than the quintet, possibly composed just after the turn of the century. The main influence this time is not, as you might expect, either of the two string sextets by Brahms, but rather Dvo?ák’s A-Major Sextet of 1878. Whether Thieriot ever met Dvo?ák in person or heard his Sextet, I don’t know, but there’s much in Thieriot’s score that suggests the Czech composer’s folk-derived rhythms and harmonies. Somewhat lacking, however, is Dvo?ák’s melodic inspiration, as well as the natural ease of melodic spontaneity heard in Thieriot’s piano quintet. There’s something slightly forced-sounding about the sextet that makes it not as immediately appealing as the quintet, despite its many felicities. Make no mistake, though, this is still a very attractive work.
Unusually scored for two cellos and piano, the Theme and Variations, op. 29, dates from 1883. Thieriot’s mastery of variations form is no match for Brahms’s, but melodically and harmonically the piece is cut from the same cloth as the earlier quintet, which is to say it’s of exquisite beauty. If there’s a dominant influence in this work, it would have to be Beethoven, specifically Beethoven of the middle cello sonatas. But there are unexpected touches here and there of Chopin’s Piano Trio, and Brahms finally does get into the act in the fugal ninth variation.
As constituted for the three works on this disc, the Hamburg Chamber Players ensemble is chaired by violinists Ian Mardon and Ilona Raasch, violists Rudolf Seippel and Julia Mensching, cellists Rolf Herbrechtsmeyer and Martin Hopffgarten, and pianist Yuko Hirose, coming together in various combinations as required by the scoring of each piece. Playing, to be honest, is not perfect; occasional intonation imprecisions don’t go unnoticed, and the recording exhibits an intermittent upper-range distortion reminiscent of high-frequency overload on LPs, hard to explain on a modern digital recording made in 2007. But at present, there are no other versions of these works to choose from, and you will be depriving yourself of music too beautiful for words if you allow a few minor flaws to put you off this release. My mouth is watering for the next installment.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
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