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Jongen, Ysäye, Meester: String Trios / Goeyvaerts Trio


Release Date: 09/26/2006 
Label:  Pavane   Catalog #: 7502   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Joseph JongenEugène YsaÿeLouis de Meester
Performer:  Kris MatthynssensPieter StasKristien Roels
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goeyvaerts String Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



JONGEN String Trio, op. 135. YSAŸE String Trio, “Le Chimay.” MEESTER String Trio Goeyvaerts Str Tr PAVANE 7502 (58:01)


Fans of the Poirot mystery series will know how its name character bristles every time someone assumes he is French. With a condescending air comes his sharp rebuke, “I am a Belgian,” the tone conveying an Read more attitude of national pride and a hardly concealed sense of superiority over those neighbors to the south. I mention this because quite a few late 19th- and early 20th-century composers, generally thought of as French, were in fact of Belgian birth. César Franck is but the most notable name on a rather long list that includes Lekeu, famed violinist-composers De Bériot, Vieuxtemps, and Ysaÿe, and, of course, the well-known composer and organist Joseph Jongen, the latter two both represented on this program.


Appreciation of the string trio is an acquired taste; pleasure in the medium is more often taken by the players than by the listeners. More intimate and confidential than the string quartet, the string trio reduces harmony to its near essential state, the triad. Among the major chamber music categories, the string trio (along with the string duo) brings up the rear guard, though there are fine examples by many leading composers: Boccherini, Haydn (for two violins and cello, rather than violin, viola, and cello), Mozart (the great Divertimento in E?, K 563), Beethoven, Schubert, and others. But one could compile an even longer list of composers who showed no interest in the medium at all. Discovery then of these three mid-20th-century trios comes as a welcome surprise. Whether these are premiere recordings of these works—not stated to be so—I’m unable to say; they are, however, new to me.


Joseph Jongen (1873–1953) is a name familiar to many from his impressive and much recorded Symphonie concertante for organ and orchestra; and, indeed, he is not infrequently regarded as one of the later members of the great Franco-Belgian school of organists that goes back to Franck, Saint-Saëns, and Widor. Truth be told, though, Jongen’s chief compositional efforts seem to have been directed towards chamber music, of which the piano trio on this disc. op. 135, is a very late work dating from 1948. Add to this a much earlier piano trio, op. 30, and a considerable catalog of string quartets, piano quartets, wind quintets, and duo sonatas for flute, cello, and violin with piano, as well as concertos for cello, harp, and viola, and it becomes apparent that Jongen was not foremost an accomplished organist who happened to compose, but an accomplished composer who happened to play the organ. All of the aforementioned works have been recorded and are readily available on various labels. The French label Cyprès, in particular, has thus far devoted no fewer than five beautifully produced releases to Jongen’s works.


Not to take anything away from him, but Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931) fits more comfortably the description of the grand virtuoso instrumentalist who mostly played, toured, and taught for a living. His influence on violin technique, and even on violin music being written at the time, was considerable. At least three important works were dedicated to him: Chausson’s Poème , Franck’s Violin Sonata, and Debussy’s String Quartet. Ysaÿe’s own compositional efforts, however, were directed mainly towards writing for the instrument he knew best, his six sonatas for solo violin being his most important contribution.


Louis de Meester (1904–1987) will likely be the least familiar to readers of the three names on this disc. Almost entirely self-taught, Meester received no formal musical instruction until he was in his early thirties, and then, only briefly, when he took some lessons in counterpoint from Jean Absil. Though he rubbed elbows with Poulenc, Ravel, Milhaud, Honegger, and Stravinsky, Meester was influenced by none of them. He gravitated instead towards IPEM, (Institute for Psycho-Acoustics and Electronic Music) producing an electro-acoustic opera for radio, The Great Temptation of St. Anthony . Subsequently, he won the Sicily Prize for another opera, Two Is Not Enough, Three Is Too Much. An intended sequel, Two-and-a-Half , never materialized (I made that up).


Having learned something about each of the composers represented on this CD, you are probably wondering now what these three trios are like. The Jongen is perhaps easiest to describe. It owes allegiance neither to the large and loosely defined camp of composers stamped with the generic label, “Impressionist”—Debussy, Ravel, Ibert, Roussel, and Florent Schmitt—nor to the tighter circle branded “Les Six”—Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Tailleferre. Rather, the Jongen trio clearly carries forward well into the mid 20th century the legacy of Franck and his followers, some of whom were associated with the Schola Cantorum—d’Indy, Dukas, Sévérac, and Pierné. In fact, as I listened repeatedly to the Jongen, it put me in mind of yet another composer who fits somewhere, more or less, into one or another of these assemblies, Henri Sauguet (1901–1989). His sonata for violin and piano titled Crépusculaire has about it a quality not entirely dissimilar from the Jongen, one that is characterized by the afterglow of a sunset and the darkening of the far horizon as twilight turns to night and nocturnal things begin to stir. Its appeal lies not in a ripeness of Romantic melody and harmony, but almost entirely in color and mood.


At first, I thought the title of Ysaÿe’s 1927 trio, “Le Chimay,” might have been a reference to the mythological chimera, but finding no translation for it as a word, I learned from the booklet note that it is the name of a place that played a prominent role in the life of 19th-century Belgian musical affairs. Not stated in the booklet note, but which I discovered on my own, is that Chimay has long been a Belgian municipality known for its beer brewing. What makes this slightly amusing is that Ysaÿe enjoyed a reputation as an imbiber, occasionally indulging one or more glasses too many before a concert appearance. There is at least one documented instance—in Bordeaux, ironically—of his appearing on stage thoroughly inebriated.


While Ysaÿe’s late string trio hardly sounds like the work of a man who was intoxicated while writing it, as a piece of music it is far from intoxicating. Clocking in at over 21 minutes, its three-movements-in-one overstays its welcome by half, bickering in bitonal acrimony over nothing in particular. As the product of a great virtuoso, the writing, not surprisingly, sounds wickedly difficult, especially for the violin: lots of octave double-stopping, stratospheric trilling, rapid string-crossing arpeggios, punctuated by much tremolando and pizzicato in the viola and cello. It’s not quite as bad as I’ve made it sound. Still, in my opinion, it’s one of those works that has nothing much to say, but is hell-bent on saying it anyway.


That leaves the Meester trio (1951), a piece that belies its composer’s association with the musique concrète crowd. Early on, its first movement perhaps bears certain resemblances to the atmospherics of Ligeti, but after Meester has gotten that out of his system, the second and third movements are about as close an imitation of Schoenberg and Bartók, respectively, as one could hope for.


With but one exception—an out-of-tune octave unison cadence at the end of the Ysaÿe, the Goeyvaerts String Trio (Kristien Roels, violin; Kris Matthynssens, viola; and Pieter Stas, cello) play all three works with conviction and sensitivity. This is certainly an unusual offering that may not appeal to more generalist audiences, but the string trio literature can always do with some augmenting. Recommended, then, for the curious and the adventurous.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello, Op. 135 by Joseph Jongen
Performer:  Kris Matthynssens (Viola), Pieter Stas (Cello), Kristien Roels (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goeyvaerts String Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; Belgium 
Date of Recording: 11/2005 
2.
Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello "Le Chimay" by Eugène Ysaÿe
Performer:  Pieter Stas (Cello), Kristien Roels (Violin), Kris Matthynssens (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goeyvaerts String Trio
Period: Romantic 
Date of Recording: 11/2005 
3.
Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello by Louis de Meester
Performer:  Kris Matthynssens (Viola), Pieter Stas (Cello), Kristien Roels (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Goeyvaerts String Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951; Belgium 
Date of Recording: 11/2005 

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