This recording brings together four of Chausson's chamber works from different periods of his short life. His youthful Piano Trio and the Andante and Allegro date from April 1881; the Pièce for cello and piano—one of his last compositions—from 1897.
Throughout his life the composer favoured vocal and chamber music. He wrote the Andante and Allegro (which is much more adventurous than its simple title implies) while preparing for the Prix de Rome. It was followed by the admirable and passionate Piano Trio in G minor, a work of an altogether different calibre and hue.
The programme's highlight is the first recording of the famous Poème in a version for piano, violin and string quartet (the same combination as for the famous Concert in D major, Op 21), discovered by chance in 1996.
This CD is a companion to the already issued disc of the Concert and the Piano Quartet by these artists (). Chausson's only remaining chamber work, the String Quartet, was also recorded and intended for this disc, but it was too long. It is now available on with the String Quartet No 2 of Vincent d'Indy, also played by the Chilingirian Quartet.
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This recording brings together four of Chausson’s chamber works from different periods in his short life: his youthful Piano Trio and the Andante and Allegro for clarinet and piano date from 1881; the Pièce for cello and piano—one of his last compositions—from 1897. The programme’s highlight is the first recording of the Poème in a version for violin, piano and string quartet, discovered by chance in 1996.
Throughout his life the composer of Le Roi Arthus favoured vocal and chamber music, genres which reflected his own personality so well. If, like many novice composers, Chausson at first turned to the mélodie (Les Lilas and Chanson of 1877, added to between 1880 and 1882 by the seven songs which form Opus 2) and to the piano (two Sonatines of 1878 and the Opus 1 Fantaisies of 1879 which he destroyed), he soon broadened his scope by writing the Andante and Allegro for clarinet and piano in April 1881 (while preparing for the Prix de Rome), and shortly afterwards the admirable Piano Trio in G minor.
The Andante and Allegro, which has no opus number, is much more adventurous than its simple title implies, not least because, as a young student at the Conservatoire coming late to music, he deliberately chose the clarinet, an instrument which rarely featured in the salons and concert halls and towards which the majority of composers in the nineteenth century only turned late in their careers.
Like any seasoned professional Chausson experimented with all of the expressive and technical possibilities of the clarinet, bringing into play the colours of its different registers, its lyricism and virtuosity, its brightness and mellowness of tone. If the Andante and Allegro reflects the influence of his two professors—Franck’s density of texture and Massenet’s refined lyricism—it also reveals an individual style characterized by abundant modulations, numerous seventh-chords on the piano, and a fusion of binary and ternary rhythms. From the opening bars a full-bodied and eloquent dialogue is established between the two instruments, low down on the keyboard, higher on the clarinet which, in the Allegro, seeks to express itself more forcefully, yet very discreetly.
The Piano Trio in G minor, Opus 3, is of an altogether different calibre and hue. Familiar with Baudelaire and the Greek poets, Chausson found it almost impossible to create a musical setting for the silly and simplistic text of L’Arabe, a compulsory part of the competition in Rome; his entry failed to impress the jury. But it was this failure which made him more determined than ever to compose, leading him to write a carefully constructed score brimming with lyricism and beautiful touches—as if to show the ‘establishment’ what he could really do.
Composed at Montbovon in Switzerland between mid July and mid September 1881, the Trio for piano, violin and cello established from the outset the young musician’s leaning towards chamber music at a time when his peers were moving towards opera. Above all, it shows an exceptional sense of architecture and lyricism. The opening ‘Pas trop lent’ introduces two threads, one very rhythmic—at the start of which appears a very recognizable motif (two demisemiquavers and a crochet)—and the other melodic, descending and chromatic, blending into the same motif. The ensuing theme of this movement is similarly based on two ideas, introduced by the violin in G minor and continued on the cello. The development lets us follow the thematic thread with the motif being repeated four times, fortissimo.
Conceived as an intermezzo, the second movement in B flat (‘Vite’, in 3/8) is also based around two themes, the latter being longer and more rhythmically subtle. A surprise awaits the listener in the third movement: its only theme is none other than the second motif from the first movement played at half speed. It is in this beautiful D?minor piano tune, which variously hints at the work’s first motif, that the spirit and eclecticism of the musician is to be found through the unceasing changes of tonality and subtle ambiguities of harmony. In the final movement he comes full circle (having introduced two more motifs), and the principal elements of the score, slightly altered, give this Trio the cyclical form beloved of Franck. Given its first performance on 8 April 1882 at the Société Nationale de Musique, but completely overlooked (not a single critic turned up), the Trio has since come into its own, particularly since 1970.
For a long time the Opus 39 Pièce has been neglected, perhaps because of the simplicity of its title. It is a delicately worked, slow, contemplative elegy written with a refined sense of poetry, where the form is tinged with gentleness and the modulations are seamless. It dies away, morendo, like the sun setting on the horizon. Behind this apparent simplicity, however, Chausson subtly weaves the work into six sections, its broad rhythms and perfectly-judged sonorities intermingled with a craftsmanship that belies the art behind the art.
By good fortune a manuscript of the famous Poème for violin and orchestra was discovered in 1996 in a version with accompaniment for piano and string quartet, the same combination as for the famous Concert, Opus 21 (recorded on). The latter’s triumphant first performance on 26 February 1892 in Brussels was to revive Chausson’s muse, which had been exhausted by the long gestation of his opera Le Roi Arthus. He would go on to write several works in a variety of genres: mélodie (Chansons de Shakespeare, Poèmes de Verlaine, Cantique à l’épouse, Chanson perpétuelle), piano (Quelques Danses, Paysage), orchestral (Soir de fête) and chamber music—the Pièce for cello (or viola) and piano in C?major, Opus 39, in August, 1897—and, lastly, the admirable String Quartet in C minor which remained unfinished. A detailed discussion on this unfamiliar version of the Poème is provided by Philippe Graffin (see performance note).
Jean Gallois © 1998