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   with Piano

Romantic Belgian Chamber Music

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Koch-Schwann Musique en Wallonie MEW0423

François-Joseph Fétis
(1784-1871)

String Quintet #1 in A minor (1859) 1
Grand Sextet (1818) 2,3
Sonata #1 for Piano 4-Hands in A Major 2
Sonata #2 for Piano 4-Hands in D Major 2
Sonata #3 for Piano 4-Hands in G Major 2

1 Michel Collin & André Martin, violins
1 Guy Decleire & Louis Logie, viola
1 Edmond Baert, cello
2 Dominique Cornil & Olivier Gardon, piano 4-hands
3 Veronique Bogaerts & François Chamberlan, violins
3 Paul de Clerck, viola
3 Hans Mannes, cello
Koch-Schwann Musique en Wallonie MEW0423 77:52

Born into a Belgian family of instrument makers and musicians, Fétis became perhaps the most important music historian and musicologist of the 19th century, as well as an influential critic. Though his writings were encyclopedic, his compositional output was relatively sparse.

His chamber music consists of three string quartets, three string quintets, the sextet included here (scored for the unusual combination of piano 4-hands, 2 violins, viola & cello) and a few other pieces, including these 4-hand piano sonatas from 1819. All of the works are finely crafted, and often quite beautiful. The performances are committed and first rate. Hard to find, but worth the trouble.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Brilliant Norwegian Symphonies

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Sterling SACD CDS1084-2

Eyvind Alnæs
(1872-1932)

Symphony #1 in C Minor, Op. 7 (1897)
Symphony #2 in D Major, Op. 32 (1923)

Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
Sterling SACD CDS1084-2 78:14

As was usual during most of the nineteenth century, many Scandinavian and Finnish composers trained in Leipzig, and thus were influenced by such teachers as Carl Reinecke. The majority of the Norwegian Alnæs's output was vocal music, but also includes a piano concerto, which has been recorded by Hyperion (CDA67555), and a set of orchestral variations.

These two symphonies show their German influences but there are also touches of Edvard Grieg, and the final movement of the second is very Norwegian indeed. For those interested, the disc is a hybrid, multi-channel SACD.

[ Available on Multichannel Hybrid SACD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

English Works for Piano & Strings

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Dutton Epoch CDLX7220

Edward Elgar
(1857-1934)

Three Movements for Piano Trio

Adela Maddison
(1866-1929)

Piano Quintet (1916)

Frank Bridge
(1979-1941)

Piano Quartet in C Minor (1902)

The Fibonacci Sequence
Dutton Epoch CDLX7220 79:26

All of these are first recordings. Two of the movements by Elgar – Rosemary and Empire March – will be familiar to those who know his smaller pieces. The realization by Paul Rooke was done to celebrate his 150th anniversary in 2007. Adela Maddison, who spent some years living in France – where she knew a number of well-known composers, especially Gabriel Fauré – and later in Germany, was better known for her songs and opera. The piano quintet was written on her return to England and reflects the events of the time. The music of Frank Bridge, for many years known principally as Britten's teacher, has recently been recorded more frequently. His piano quartet, suppressed for many years, shows the influence of Brahms, Fauré and Ravel.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

Norwegian Melodies

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Simax PSC1226

Thomas Dyke Acland Tellefsen
(1823-1874)

Cello Sonata, Op. 21 (21:50)
Piano Trio, Op. 31 (32:58)
Violin Sonata #1, Op. 19 (26:10)

Einar Steen-Nokleberg, piano
Atle Sponberg, violin
Øysten Birkeland, cello
Simax PSC1226 80:58

Tellefsen was a Norwegian pianist and composer who came from a musical family in Trondheim. He later studied with Friedrich Kalkbrenner, and then with Frédéric Chopin. This relationship was pivotal and Tellefsen was strongly influenced by Chopin's music, eventually writing his own mazurkas and nocturnes for piano.

Tellefsen concertized all across Europe and was regarded as one of the outstanding pianists of his time; he was especially admired for his interpretations of Chopin's music. He is primarily remembered today for his piano music, though he wrote several chamber pieces, including the major works performed marvelously here (this is also the longest single CD I have ever encountered). Two more important compositions are the piano concertos, also available on CD (Simax PSC1232).

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

A Musician of Varied Talents

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Toccata Classics TOCC0068

Donald Francis Tovey
(1875-1949)

Piano Trio in B minor, Op. 1
Piano Trio "Style Tragique" in C minor, Op. 8

London Piano Trio
Toccata Classics TOCC0068 65:06

These gorgeous Romantic piano trios are strongly influenced by Tovey's great love and deep understanding of the music of Johannes Brahms. They were both written in 1895, and the second trio, Op. 8 was originally for piano, clarinet and horn. This version for violin, cello and piano was published 1912.

Toccata Classics have produced two other recordings of the music of Tovey, and I look forward to more. The London Piano Trio (Robert Atchison, violin; Bzidar Vukotic, cello; Olga Dudnik, piano) play with warmth, energy and a rich, perfectly balanced sound.

Also available:
  Symphony in D Major, Op. 32, etc. (Toccata Classics TOCC0033)
  Cello Concerto, Op. 40, etc. (Toccata Classics TOCC0038)

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Master of Fluent Technique

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Supraphon SU3487-2

Zdeněk Fibich
(1850-1900)

Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello & Piano in E minor, Op. 11 (1874)
Quintet for Piano, Clarinet, Horn, Violin & Cello in D Major, Op. 42 (1894)

Marián Lapšanský, piano
Ludmila Peterková, clarinet
Vladimira Klánská, horn
Jirí Panocha, violin
Jaroslav Kulhan, cello
Supraphon SU3487-2 63:31

Fibich is generally regarded as the greatest of the Czech composers of the nineteenth century after Smetana and Dvořák, and although he wrote in a number of genres, he's best remembered for his orchestral, piano and operatic music. The opening of the piano quartet makes it clear that you are listening to the work of a Czech, but Fibich was no imitator. Both these works are immediately attractive, not least because of the unusual combination of instruments in the quintet, in which Fibich uses especially the horn to good effect.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Poulenc's Chamber Music

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Naxos 8.553612

Francis Poulenc
(1899-1963)

Sonata for Violin & Piano (18:26)
Sonata for Piano & Cello (21:51)
Sonata in B Flat Major for Clarinet & Piano (13:24)
Bagatelle "Le bal masqué" in D minor for Violin & Piano (2:17)

Graf Mourja, violin
Ronald van Spaendonck, clarinet
Françoise Groben, cello
Alexandre Tharaud, piano
Naxos 8.553612

The Sonata for Clarinet and Piano was one of the last works composed by the prolific Poulenc, as part of a set of three wind sonatas never completed. The characteristics of Poulenc's style are all here – great wit, kaleidoscopic moods, shifting harmonies that skitter around but do not disturb the impression of tonality, discords that skip by so quickly that they are hardly noticeable, and in the slower movements, nostalgia, longing, and sweet melody.

The other pieces on this disc, as well as the other volumes in this series, are all highly recommended.

Volume I - Naxos 8.553611
Volume III - Naxos 8.553613
Volume IV - Naxos 8.553614
Volume V - Naxos 8.553615
[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Piano Trios From Belgium

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Fuga Libera FUG518

Joseph Jongen
(1873-1953)

Piano Trio, Op. 10 (1896-97)
Aquarelles for Violin & Piano, Op. 59 (1918)
Two Pieces for Piano Trio, Op. 95 (1931)

Ensemble Joseph Jongen
Fuga Libera FUG518 61:24

Jongen's quartets featured in an earlier Explorer article. The works on this CD will appeal to anyone who enjoys Debussy, Ravel and Fauré in particular. The Op. 10 trio has had other recordings but Op. 95 is less well-known: the first piece especially has some limpid piano writing that makes it a real winner. The pianist, Diane Andersen, will be a familiar name to seasoned collectors.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music PlusMusicnotes.com ]

Beyond the Famous Violin Concerto

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CPO 999451

Max Bruch
(1838-1920)

String Octet, Op. posth. (1920)
Quintet for Piano & String Quartet, Op. posth. (1918)
String Quintet in A minor (1918)

Ensemble Ulf Hoelscher
CPO 999451-2 78:54

Two of these stunning works were written at the end of Bruch's long and productive musical life. If you already know and love the First Violin Concerto, Bruch's most popular work, you will certainly enjoy all of these exceptionally lovely pieces.

The Octet, with it's depth of emotion, and its rich scoring (virtuosic first violin part and use of bass viol to replace the more customary cello) creates a mood that is poignant and unforgettable.

The Viola Quintet is a delightful work and it contains an ear-worm Scherzo. I played the Scherzo over and over and wound up singing, whistling, tapping my foot and finally was compelled to purchase the parts.

Mention must be made of Ulf Hoelscher and his ensemble. It is an especially fine-sounding group, and he is a strong and sensitive violinist. This disc is a must-have for chamber music lovers. Thanks again to CPO for being a champion of lesser-known works.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music PlusMusicnotes.com ]

Smiling Through The Tears

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Naxos 8.570540

Alexander Zemlinsky
(1871-1942)

Three Pieces for Cello & Piano (1891)
Sonata in A minor for Cello & Piano (1894)
Trio in D minor for Clarinet, Cello & Piano (1896)

Othmar Mueller, cello
Ernst Ottensamer, clarinet
Christopher Hinterhuber, piano
Naxos 8.570540 64:21

This fine CD was purchased primarily for the beautiful Clarinet Trio, but the cello and piano works are a fantastic discovery. They fill a long-held desire of this listener for more Brahmsian cello music. They contain melodies and rhythms and the same emotional smiling-through-tears found in Brahms. Both of the Zemlinsky cello works had been presumed lost or destroyed, and were found only recently.

The clarinet trio owes its existence even more directly to Brahms, whose own Clarinet Trio predates this one by several years. Brahms recommended the Zemlinsky Trio to the publisher, Simrock. The works on this CD are performed with great sensitivity and superb musicianship.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music and sound samples for the Trio can be found at Edition Silvertrust
  Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music PlusMusicnotes.com ]
Trumpet