JUON Piano Sextet in c, Op. 221. Piano Quintet in F, Op. 44 • Carmina Qrt; Oliver Triendl (pn); 1Thomas Grossenbacher (vc) • CPO 777507 (71:27)
Paul Juon (1872–1940), named Pawel Fedorowitsch at birth, was Moscow-born to a Russian father and a German mother. In 1889, he entered the Moscow Conservatory where he studied violin underRead more that bane of modern-day violin students, Jan H?ímalý, and composition under Anton Arensky and Sergei Taneyev, two teachers who instilled in Juon a strong grounding in traditional harmony and counterpoint. From there he went on to Berlin to continue his studies under Woldemar Bargiel, a composer who was part of the extended Schumann-Brahms circle. Juon must have liked it in Germany, for that’s where he remained for most of the rest of his life, retiring to Switzerland in 1934 where he died six years later in Vevey.
In what seems like 100 years ago now, I reviewed a recording of Juon’s Konzertstück for violin and piano and his Cello Concerto, “Mysterien,” in 27:5. I liked what I heard, which was conservative for its time and very romantic, but was not convinced that Juon was music’s next major discovery. Since then, recordings of Juon’s works have become more numerous, and what is emerging is a composer who was more prolific than I’d originally thought—his catalog contains 99 entries with opus numbers and a handful more without—and whose output is weighted heavily towards chamber music, though there’s an unpublished symphony, three violin concertos, the above-mentioned cello concerto, several miscellaneous orchestral pieces, and quite a few pieces for solo piano.
Of the two works on the present disc, the Sextet, written in 1902, is the earlier. The scoring for two violins, viola, two cellos, and piano, is highly unusual. Off hand, I can’t think of another sextet like it. Closest to it in instrumentation are sextets by Glinka, Lyapunov, Henri Bertini, Aloys Schmitt, William Sterndale Bennett, Joseph Holbrooke, and Felix Weingartner; but they all substitute a double bass for Juon’s second cello. And to add to its atypical scoring, the formal layout of the work is one for the books. That it’s in five movements instead of four is not without precedent, but the second movement, a theme with four variations, is followed by a continuation of the variations into the third movement Menuett and the fourth movement Intermezzo.
Putting these matters aside, you’re probably wondering what this strangely scored and oddly fashioned work sounds like. The answer is very beautiful but somehow not quite all of a piece. The first movement, a large, fully worked-out sonata-allegro structure, is more than a little redolent of Brahms’s F-Minor Piano Quintet, with gestures and near quotations that are unmistakably of a Brahmsian cast. The theme of the second movement and its variations that spill over into movements 3 and 4 are of a strongly Russian flavor. The influence of Juon’s teachers, Arensky and Taneyev, are writ large in these three movements; only minute traces of Brahms remain. Then there’s the finale, a rhythmic dance with strong folk character. If Brahms’s Hungarian Gypsies were Ukrainian peasants, this would be their music.
The scoring of the Piano Quintet of 1909 is almost as eccentric as that of the sextet. Instead of the usual string quartet plus piano, we have one violin, two violas, cello, and piano. A lot must have happened to Juon in the seven years between these two works, for the quintet has clearly embraced the dawn of the 20th century, with frequently shifting and irregular meters (7/4, 10/8, 15/8), an occasional venture into polyrhythmic passages, a denser chromatic harmony, and a freer approach to tonality. It’s hard to describe the sound of this piece, but if I had to, I’d say it reminds me a bit of Korngold. The piano quintet has been recorded before by members of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra for the Musiques Suisses label, though I haven’t heard it.
The Carmina Quartet has been in business for 25 years. Its debut recording of Haydn, Schubert, and Mendelssohn was enthusiastically reviewed by Robert McColley in 13:3 (1990), and the ensemble has been going strong ever since. These are outstanding performances, joined by veteran pianist Oliver Triendl and additionally in the sextet by cellist Thomas Grossenbacher. Despite the strange scoring and form of the sextet, the music is gorgeous—if you like Brahms, Arensky, and Sergei Taneyev—and a significant addition to the chamber music repertoire. As for the quintet, the jury is still out. I found it difficult to wrap my ears around on a first listen, but it may make more sense on subsequent hearings. Juon is becoming a much better-known quantity than he was just a few years ago, and if you’re curious to find out why, this new release is a good place to start. Recommended.
Sextet for Piano and Strings in C minor, Op. 22by Paul Juon
Oliver Triendl (Piano),
Thomas Grossenbacher (Cello)
Carmina String Quartet
Quintet for Piano and Strings in F major, Op. 44by Paul Juon
Oliver Triendl (Piano)
Carmina String Quartet
Piano Sextet in C minor, Op. 22: I. Moderato
Piano Sextet in C minor, Op. 22: II. Thema con variazioni: Andantino quasi Allegretto
Piano Sextet in C minor, Op. 22: III. Menuetto
Piano Sextet in C minor, Op. 22: IV. Intermezzo: Moderato piacevole
Piano Sextet in C minor, Op. 22: V. Finale: Allegro non troppo
Piano Quintet No. 2 in F major, Op. 44: I. Allegro moderato
Piano Quintet No. 2 in F major, Op. 44: II. Commodo
Piano Quintet No. 2 in F major, Op. 44: III. Sostenuto
Piano Quintet No. 2 in F major, Op. 44: IV. Risoluto - Tranquillo - Vivace
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Solid Craftsmanship ThroughoutApril 1, 2013By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Paul Juon's Piano Quintet and Piano Set are excellent contributions to the repertoire of enhanced-size chamber music works for strings and piano. Faultless performance by Switzerland's Carmina Quartet, cellist Thomas Grossenbacher (in the Sextet), and Germany's Oliver Triendle (piano) make this CPO recording another luxurious listening experience. Dating from the very early 1900's, these two fine compositions are bright, energetic works in the very late European post-Romantic style. I am sure that anyone who enjoys high quality chamber music will truly appreciate this offering from CPO, the dedicated champion of lesser known European composers. Very definitely recommended."Report Abuse