Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quartet No. 3.
Ames Pn Qrt
SONO LUMINUS 92141 (73:20)
Reynaldo Hahn (1874–1947) and Florent Schmitt (1870–1958) are names relatively familiar, but I have to admit that if I hadn’t had a recent encounter with Théodore Dubois (1837–1934) in
34:6, he’d be a new
acquaintance to me among these three composers. Granted, the one piece by which he was represented on that disc of horn trios by Brahms and Holbrooke was his very short
, but the piece struck me at the time as being in a very romantic, sentimentalized salon style that reminded me a bit of some of the music by the slightly later Cécile Chaminade and Reynaldo Hahn.
Here we find Dubois not only represented by one of his large-scale works, his Piano Quartet in A Minor, spanning nearly 35 minutes, but also joined at the hip on this CD by one of the composers his music reminded me of, Hahn, and by one of the composers he taught, Schmitt. All three of course were French (Hahn by naturalization), and all three lived long-enough lives (Dubois died at 97) to overlap the Impressionists, Les Apaches, La Jeune France, and Les Six.
Adrian Corleonis reviewed an earlier recording of Schmitt’s
in 33:1, mischievously describing it as “a grotesque
of ostensible charm goosed by raspberries, tender feints guyed by truculence, the fun gestures of Les Six appropriated by a dogged, busy, belated sensibility.” I’m not sure I know what some of that means, but
(Chances or Ventures) is a four-movement suite for piano quartet that reveals Schmitt’s lighter side with quirky movement titles and equally eccentric rhythms and harmonies that occasionally sound as if Milhaud’s
Ox on the Roof
Le Boeuf sur le toit
) has fallen off the roof.
Hahn’s Piano Quartet in G Major has had at least one previous recording by an ensemble calling itself Room Music. Originally issued on a full-priced Hyperion disc containing a collection of the composer’s chamber works, it’s now available on the label’s mid-priced Helios line. I reviewed it in 27:6, describing Hahn’s music as a trip down Proust’s memory lane, a melancholic ode to nostalgia and guilty pleasures.
The Ames Piano Quartet is the resident chamber ensemble at Iowa State University and has been active for a number of years. Collectors may recall the ensemble’s recordings on the Dorian label, including the piano quartets of Brahms, Dvo?ák, and Fauré. If this were the first and only recording of Hahn’s G-Major Piano Quartet, I’d give it an unconditional “buy” recommendation. But comparing the Ames to Room Music, I can’t help but feel that the Roomies are more sensitive to Hahn’s scented-handkerchief temperament, though I’ll admit that the Ames’s playing in the Andante movement manages to send me reaching for a hankie of my own. But what really favors Room Music is the recording. Hyperion provides a very transparent and atmospheric acoustic for the Room’s players, while the current Sono Luminus acoustic is a bit congested and opaque.
I can’t make a similar comparison between the Ames’s Schmitt and the Stanislas Quartet’s Timpani CD that Corleonis reviewed, because I haven’t heard it. So that leaves the Dubois, which, interestingly, has also had another recording but, unfortunately, one I’ve not heard either. It’s on Atma with an ensemble calling itself Trio Hochelaga. If nothing else, that CD has an advantage in being dedicated exclusively to works by Dubois, which, based on my previous encounter with his
and now this A-Minor Piano Quartet, I would say are well worth getting to know.
To give you some idea of how conservative Dubois was for his time, he was nearly 70 when he wrote this quartet, which would place its composition around 1907 or thereabouts. By then, he’d already joined forces with Saint-Saëns to deny Ravel the Grand Prix. If it’s any consolation to Ravel fans, that impolitic move proved Dubois’s undoing, for it caused such a scandal, it came to be known as
. Punishment was swift; Dubois was dismissed from his position as director of the conservatory and replaced by Fauré. Dubois’s career in academia was over, but he continued to compose prolifically right up to the end of his very long life.
Any resentment of the man’s illiberalism that might be harbored is quickly dispelled by his meltingly beautiful music. There aren’t that many piano quartets in the literature to begin with, and Dubois’s contribution to the genre is a stunning one that can easily stand beside those of Fauré. His musical temperament, at least insofar as this piano quartet is concerned, is not as delicate or fragile as Hahn’s, and the Ames Piano Quartet projects the work with a good deal of thrust in the outer movements and an aching nostalgia in the Andante molto espressivo.
When dealing with composers whose music is not that well known or often recorded, it’s always tough to decide whether it’s more desirable to have a disc devoted exclusively to the works of a single composer or one that offers a program of similar works by a clutch of closely related composers. I wouldn’t want to part with Room Music’s disc, which offers an all-Hahn program. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to part with this Ames disc either, mainly for the Dubois piano quartet of which I have no other version. Whatever your inclinations may be, the Ames Piano Quartet provides well over an hour’s worth of exquisite music impeccably played. So, strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Hasards, Op. 96 by Florent Schmitt
Ames Piano Quartet
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1939-1944; France
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