BOËLLMANN Piano Trio, Op. 19. Piano Quartet, Op. 101; Two Pieces for Cello and Piano; Two Trios (from Heures mystiques) • Trio Parnassus; 1Gérard Caussé (va) • MDG 303 1755-2 (72:35)
Unlike his idols César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Gabriel Fauré, who livedRead more long and fruitful lives, the Alsatian composer Léon Boëllmann, who was born in 1862, died very young. Although he left behind him more than 150 works, Boëllmann is nowadays mostly remembered for his Suite Gothique, a work that has had a perennial following among organ aficionados. Given that Boëllmann died much too young, it is very tempting to think about where his music might have eventually ended up had he not succumbed to tuberculosis at age 35. As interesting as that exercise is, the fact is that, at the time of his passing, Boëllmann was already a master composer, and this outstanding new recording provides ample proof of his considerable talents.
Composed in 1890, the Piano Quartet bears a striking resemblance to Franck and Saint-Saëns in its treatment of thematic material and emphasis on linear melodic structures that are slowly developed and constantly handed off between the members of the ensemble. It is true that the writing is not particularly original, but this is nonetheless genial music whose appeal remains largely intact after repeated listenings. I am particularly impressed with the Andante, which after a rather sentimental opening blooms into something quite memorable. Written two years before Boëllmann’s death, the Piano Trio is closer to Fauré’s spirit in its increased use of chromaticism and use of subtle harmonic changes. Here again, Boëllmann’s ability to write catchy tunes is on full display and the result is, I believe, nothing short of enchanting. The remaining works are less ambitious, but are nonetheless enjoyable. (Incidentally, the Andante for piano trio bears an interesting resemblance to the Adagio of Dvo?ák’s penultimate string quartet. A coincidence, I presume.)
Trio Parnassus is one of today’s foremost chamber music ensembles, and they play with their customary mix of elegance, warmth, and virtuosity. It is also nice to see that they are continuing their advocacy on behalf of wrongly neglected composers. In the piano quartet, they are joined by admirable violist Gérard Caussé, who matches the ensemble’s artistry in every respect. I do not recall ever hearing a recording on the MDG label that was less than stellar in the engineering department, and this one is no exception. I enjoyed this recording a great deal, and I suspect that you will too. Perhaps the time is ripe for a comprehensive survey of Boëllmann’s works. Most enthusiastically recommended.