WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Terzetti / The Debussy Ensemble

Release Date: 06/12/2012 
Label:  Divine Art   Catalog #: 25099  
Composer:  Arnold BaxClaude DebussyMaurice RavelWilliam Mathias,   ... 
Performer:  Matthew JonesSusan MilanIeuan Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Debussy Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

TERZETTI: Trios for Flute, Viola, and Harp Debussy Ensemble DIVINE ART 25099 (63:20)

BAX Elegiac Trio. DEBUSSY Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. RAVEL Sonatine. MATHIAS Zodiac Trio. DUBOIS Terzettino

The Debussy Ensemble is Read more made up of flutist Susan Milan, violist Matthew Jones, and harpist Leuan Jones. Milan is a former principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; all of these artists teach at the Royal College of Music in London.

Composer Arnold Bax was born in England, but after reading a good bit of Irish literature he became fascinated with the Emerald Isle and its wild, windswept coast. Making frequent visits, he drew inspiration from its landscape and from the culture of its hardy people. He wrote the Elegiac Trio in memory of friends who died in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Uprising, mounted by Irish republicans who had hoped to end British rule in Ireland while the Empire was fighting World War I. The hauntingly sad themes of this work combine his memories of Ireland with lush French Impressionistic harmonies. The members of the Debussy Ensemble balance the timbres of their instruments beautifully in their intense rendition of this colorful piece.

Claude Debussy wrote his Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp in 1915, when France was totally embroiled in World War I. Although he was already ill with a fatal cancer, he wrote to Igor Stravinsky, “New beauty should fill the air when the cannons fall silent.” He tried to make it so with this highly evocative sonata, the pastoral first movement of which exudes a calm, bucolic atmosphere. The ensemble that named itself after this composer has done very well by him in this instance. The catchy second movement and the propulsive third surround us with shimmering combinations of tone and timbre.

Ravel’s Sonatine as heard here is a transcription by harpist Carlos Salzedo, with Ravel’s approval, of his well-known piano Sonatine. Although it is a rather difficult piece to play, the Debussy Ensemble handles it with great delicacy. They play its wild arpeggios and tempi changes with deceptive ease.

William Mathias wrote his Zodiac Trio in 1976. A very individualistic composer, he dedicated the piece to the musicians who premiered it by titling the movements with their respective zodiac signs. The scintillating first movement is “Pisces,” the second a resplendent “Taurus,” and the last is a sonorous “Aries.” Here, the ensemble plays with something of a bite, for at this point in the program a change of pace is in order. Impressionist pieces tend to blend into each other if some variations are not made.

Théodore Dubois won the Prix de Rome in 1861 and some years later he succeeded Camille Saint-Saëns as organist at the Church of the Madeleine. He also taught at the Paris Conservatory, where one of his pupils was Paul Dukas. He wrote a great deal of music that should be heard more often. In 1904, he composed this disc’s title work, the Terzettino. An enthralling, romantic work, it provides a luminous finale for this exquisite compact disc.

The Debussy Ensemble plays each piece with voluptuous dynamics and expressive phrasing. The players converse with each other on an equal basis, the viola providing opulent low tones and the flute exquisite highs. The sound is warm and well balanced. I would choose this disc for background music at a sophisticated gathering.

FANFARE: Maria Nockin


Most folk would regard the combination of flute, viola and harp as rather unusual and unlikely to have brought forth many works. However, a brief look on the Internet reveals dozens of pieces for the medium, with many of them having been written in the past thirty years. The earliest would appear to be the present Sonate by Debussy; however, Bax could be the contender for that honour.

Even the most cursory hearing of the works on this CD reveals a great potential for richness of musical colour and tone. It is an instrumental combination that must be a gift to any composer who wishes to write a piece of evocative music that nods towards impressionism, the mysterious or the exotic.

Arnold Bax balanced impressionism with romanticism in many of his works. Added to this was the influence of the ‘Celtic Twilight’. In the present Elegiac Trio all three stylistic elements are present. This is a lyrical work that alludes to the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and what Bax perceived as the loss of his ideal (and maybe imaginary) world.

The work is written in one continuous movement and references Irish melodies, ‘colourful pastoral scenes [and] … rippling waves.’ I think that what impresses me most about this work is the successful balance between the various instrumental timbres. It is possible that Bax was inspired by Debussy’s Sonate for the same combination of instruments which was written some six months previously. However, some scholars feel that Bax would not have had an opportunity to hear this work as it was not heard in London until just six weeks before the Bax premiere. So maybe he invented this particular chamber grouping.

Debussy’s Sonate en Trio was, as stated above, written during the Great War in 1916. It is one of three important sonatas written in the last years of his life: the other two are for cello and violin. In many ways, the present work sounds like an improvisation, where the soloists experiment with various instrumental colourings. They are often used in a pointillistic manner which may remind the listener of the orchestral work La Mer. The Sonate is in three movements.

I am not quite sure about Ravel’s Sonatine en trio. This is simply a transcription of the well-known Sonatina for piano. It is attractive enough, but I would much rather hear it in the original version. It was arranged sometime after 1915 by the harpist Carlos Salzedo with, ‘by all accounts’, the composer’s blessing. Perhaps it would have been better for the Debussy Ensemble to champion a work by a lesser-known composer that was especially written for their instrumental combination.

After reading the liner-notes about the William Mathias’s Zodiac I was a little concerned. My eye caught a sentence about ‘cosmic’ effects, such as ‘string sliding using a metal object’ on the viola and ‘soundboard tapping’ on the harp. As my late father would have said, it sounded a little ‘long haired’. Yet I need not have worried. Mathias’s good sense and musicality saved the day. The work is conceived as a journey between the star signs of Pisces, Aries and Taurus. The three constellations are separated by ‘travelling’ music. This is an attractive, musically interesting piece that is often haunting and always interesting. There is another recording of this piece listed in the catalogues on the ‘Harp and Company’ label, however I have not heard this.

Theodore Dubois is best remembered in the organ loft. I wonder what aspiring organist has not attempted the superb Toccata. However, there is a deal of instrumental, chamber, vocal and stage works in his catalogue. The Terzettino, which gives its title to the CD, was composed in 1904: the composer was 67 years old. It is a delicious work that is both romantic and reflective. The only downside is that it is far too short.

The Debussy Ensemble consists of three well-respected and competent soloists. Susan Milan was a former principal of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who now has a largely solo career performing with three chamber ensembles including the present one. She is also Professor and Fellow of the Royal College of Music and is a director of the British Isles Music Festival. Matthew Jones is a teacher, performer on the violin and viola and a composer. He regularly gives recitals with the pianist Michael Hampton. Finally Ieuan Jones began playing the harp at the age of six. He continued his studies at the Royal College of Music. He has given concerts in many countries and has made a number of recordings.

Much of this music is impressionistic and numinous in mood and I felt that this was not reflected in the sound quality of this CD: they are just a little let down by the hard edge in the recording. However, the playing is excellent and all three soloists respond to each other sympathetically.

Bearing in mind that these works are not well known, the liner-notes could have been more extensive. For example, there is virtually no description or analysis of the Ravel, the Bax or the Dubois. Finally, I felt that the cover was just a little bit ‘naff’.

Nevertheless, this is a great CD with a wide-ranging selection of music: it displays an instrumental combination that is relatively rarely heard.

-- John France, MusicWeb International

Read less

Works on This Recording

Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp "Elegiac" by Arnold Bax
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Susan Milan (Flute), Ieuan Jones (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Debussy Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Susan Milan (Flute), Ieuan Jones (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Debussy Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; France 
Sonatine for Piano by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Susan Milan (Flute), Ieuan Jones (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Debussy Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
Trio for Harp, Flute and Viola, Op. 70 "Zodiac" by William Mathias
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Susan Milan (Flute), Ieuan Jones (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Debussy Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975; Wales, UK 
Terzettino by Théodore Dubois
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Susan Milan (Flute), Ieuan Jones (Harp)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Debussy Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title