Notes and Editorial Reviews
Horn Trio in E?.
Horn Trio in D
Eric Ruske (hn); Jennifer Frautschi (vn); Stephen Prutsman (pn)
ALBANY 1228 (63:48)
As chamber-music combinations go, horn trios are relative rarities, with Brahms’s 1865 standout example holding its place in the repertoire as the consummate masterwork of its type. But Brahms wasn’t the first to conceive of
a piece for violin, horn, and piano. That distinction, as far as I know, goes to Frédéric Nicolas Duvernoy (1765–1838), who wrote a horn trio with an alternate version for clarinet.
Though Brahms never expressly confirmed it, there’s much to suggest, and it’s widely believed, that the Horn Trio was written in response to his mother’s death in February of 1865. Letters he wrote at the time expressing his grief, and his sullen mood observed by friends, indicate how deeply he was affected by her passing. And in the year following—at least according to a not quite thoroughly researched doctoral thesis on the horn trio published by Joshua Garrett in 1998 (osmun.com/reference/brahms/Chapter%202.html)—the only two pieces he worked on were
A German Requiem
and the Horn Trio.
That of course isn’t true, for a slew of songs for voice and piano encompassing the multiple song sets of opp. 46–49 and 57–59 all date from 1866. Also in that year, he attended a festival of his music with Albert Dietrich given at Oldenburg, visited Switzerland with Joachim, and put the finishing touches on his G-Major String Sextet. In other words, Brahms may have grieved over his mother’s death, but he wasn’t dysfunctional over it. Besides, not all of the Horn Trio’s music is morose. The piece maintains a classical four-movement structure, of which the second movement, a scherzo, and the finale are buoyant and upbeat.
So, who else besides Duvernoy and Brahms wrote trios for this combination of instruments? The surprise in store for us on the current release comes in the form of two previously unrecorded horn trios here receiving their world premieres on disc: the
, a very short (under four minutes) piece by French composer and organist Théodore Dubois (1837–1924), and a substantial three-movement trio by English composer, pianist, and conductor Josef Holbrooke (1878–1958).
Dubois, I must admit, is a composer I’d not previously encountered, though a respectably sized discography of his works exists. He studied under Ambroise Thomas, replaced Franck as choirmaster at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, and succeeded Saint-Saëns as organist at the Church of the Madeleine. He also taught at the Paris Conservatory, where among his students were Dukas, Magnard, Ropartz, and Schmitt. Though he wrote three symphonies, two piano concertos, a violin concerto, and assorted other works, including the present horn trio, I suspect the reason he is not much heard from today is that his main ambition was to write operas, which he did—nine of them that I find listed. But his fascination with near-Eastern subjects and his penchant for labyrinthine plots were apparently not shared by his Parisian audiences and he was soon forgotten.
Based solely on Dubois’s barely four-minute long
, I wouldn’t want to rush to judgment about what some of his more substantial works might be like—there are recordings listed of piano trios, a piano quartet, and a piano quintet with oboe I’d love to hear—but this short 1903 piece sounds a bit like it could be the slow movement to a lost or planned but never written multimovement work. The music is in a very romantic, sentimentalized salon style that reminds me a bit of some of the music by the slightly later Cécile Chaminade and Reynaldo Hahn.
I know that Ligeti’s Horn Trio, titled “Hommage à Brahms,” has received a fair amount of attention on disc, at least twice being logically paired with Brahms’s trio. I would submit to you, however, that if Josef Holbrooke’s trio making its recorded debut on this disc were to become more widely known, it would eclipse not only Ligeti’s work, but quite possibly it would stand only a shoulder below Brahms’s trio as one of the two supreme masterpieces in the genre. Composed in 1904, it’s a large-scale work written in a late romantic idiom of breathtaking beauty.
Though Holbrooke was of the same generation of English composers as Holst, Vaughan Williams, Bridge, Bax, Ireland, and others of that milieu, he was always somewhat of an outsider, even before World War I when he still enjoyed a fair degree of recognition. But after about 1925, his reputation took a nosedive, and he died in 1958, the same year as Vaughan Williams, in almost total obscurity. If this recording receives the attention I hope it does, perhaps interest in Holbrooke’s music will be rekindled, for this horn trio is a real gem.
Add to this an especially warm and vibrant performance of the Brahms trio and you have a winning release. All of these artists are new to me. Chicago-born hornist Eric Ruske is a former member of both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Empire Brass Quintet. He has accumulated quite an impressive discography, including a recording for Telarc of Mozart’s horn concertos with Mackerras leading the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and for Albany, a recording of Richard Strauss’s horn concertos and Gliere’s concerto. So shame on me for not having made Ruske’s acquaintance on CD before, but I was also surprised to find none of his recordings reviewed in the
Archive. He plays with a beautifully rounded, burnished tone, perfect for the Brahms, and a secure technique that allows him to shift seamlessly between his instrument’s registers.
Violinist Jennifer Frautschi has recorded the Prokofiev concertos with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, and a disc of Stravinsky and Ravel, both reviewed by Robert Maxham in
29: 2 and 24:1, respectively. On the current CD, she plays with luminous tone and exceptionally expressive phrasing.
A medal winner in the 1990s at both the Queen Elisabeth and Tchaikovsky competitions, pianist Stephen Prutsman has recorded Book II of Bach’s
; a disc of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Liadov; and Barber’s piano concerto and the concertos of MacDowell. Reviews of these by Rabinowitz and Fine will also be found in the Archive.
Even if you already have half-a-dozen versions of the Brahms trio in your collection, this new one can easily stand beside the best of them I’ve heard, which would include Tuckwell/Perlman/Ashkenazy and a recording featuring hornist David Pyatt with members of the Gould Piano Trio which, unfortunately, comes packaged only as a three-disc set including the composer’s piano trios and clarinet trio. The performance of the horn trio was much to my liking, but I wasn’t overjoyed by the piano trios. In any case, not only will you get a superb Brahms trio with Ruske, Frautschi, and Prutsman, but the Holbrooke alone makes this a must-have release.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Trio Cantabile by Théodore Dubois
Eric Ruske (Horn),
Jennifer Frautschi (Violin),
Stephen Prutsman (Piano)
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