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Avant l’orage – French String Trios, 1926-1939

Black Oak Ensemble (Cedille)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Avant l’orage – French String Trios 1926-1939
Works by Casadesus, Cras, Françaix, Goué, Pierné, Samazeuilh and Tomasi
Black Oak Ensemble
Cedille CDR 90000 212   127:34 mins (2 discs)

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Five of the seven pieces on this disc were dedicated to the three brothers of the Pasquier Trio, who were the undisputed kings of the string trio ensemble in France for decades after their formation in 1927. Any composer writing for them knew they were undaunted by technical or musical difficulties and was able to challenge them without demur. At the same time, the limited textures of the trio meant that composers needed to be aware of when a listener’s ear required a change of colour: not all the seven composers here obliged.

The two best known, Jean Françaix and Gabriel Pierné, take this need in their stride, Françaix elegantly balancing jokes with lyricism and Pierné demonstrating what one dictionary calls his ‘style alerte’. Of the others, Jean Cras, who received only a few lessons from Duparc, had a day job in the French navy where he ended as a Rear Admiral. We can judge his independent nature from the slow movement of his trio whose structure borrows from the Lydian slow movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 132, but seasoned with noises from ‘bombarde’ and ‘biniou’, the Breton shawm and bagpipe. Equally attractive is the Suite en Trio of Gustave Samazeuilh who was taught by Chausson, d’Indy and Dukas but, on the strength of a brief session with Debussy in 1896, declared ‘I was, I am a Debussyste.’

The players here are sensitive to their material, even if the close recording is a touch unkind at times to their double stopping.

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Roger Nichols