This CD explores four pieces of music by a diverse group of composers, none of whom is particularly well-known. The quality of their music is impressive and deserves to be in the repertoire. I will stick my neck out and suggest that Max D’Ollone’s Trio in A minor is one of the best works in this genre that I have heard: it is my chamber music discovery of the year-so far.
MusicWeb International has provided an excellent biography of William Hurlstone, which is tailored to an understanding of the present work. However three brief points can be made here to provide context for this review. Firstly, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Charles Villiers Stanford regarded him as his ‘best pupil’. Secondly, Hurlstone was both composer and pianist – he performed in his own Piano Concerto. Lastly, he was happiest when composing chamber works of which there are many: most remain unrecorded and un-played in our time.
There is an openness and optimism about Hurlstone’s Trio in G major for piano and strings. This work was seemingly written around 1904/5 and was published posthumously. The Trio was declared by the composer Richard Walthew as being ‘happy and genial throughout’ and displaying considerable craft and workmanship.
From the very first bars of the opening ‘allegro moderato’ this work reveals its ‘untroubled mood of optimism’. The principle themes are ‘Schubertian’ in their lyrical structure and rarely lead to a display of great tension or contrast. The ‘andante cantabile’ has been described as exhibiting John Milton’s ‘linked sweetness long drawn out’. It is a truly expressive movement that soothes away any troubles and cares. The scherzo, ‘molto vivace’ is a breezy piece, at least in the ‘minuet’ sections. The ‘trio’ is hardly more serious, with its temporary mood of repose rather than serious change of mood. The finale, ‘allegro comodo’ makes use of a Scottish – not Scotch, which is a drink – air. Hurlstone uses this tune thoughtfully and does not make it into an exhibition of ‘tartanry’.
The Trio in G major is one of those works that is hard to describe in terms of other composers. There is nothing modern or even post-romantic about this music. The composer is in a direct line from Schubert with nods to Brahms and Dvorák along the way: it is none the worse for that. This Trio is one of the finest and most enjoyable examples of the genre.
I have not come across the Australian composer Miriam Hyde. Currently, she is only represented by three compositions in the Arkiv Catalogue. Hyde was born in Adelaide on 15 January 1913. After gaining her Bachelor of Music degree she journeyed to London where she studied with Arthur Benjamin and Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music. She was also an accomplished pianist and around this time gave performances of her own Piano Concerto. Most of her life was spent teaching, composing, performing music and writing poetry. Miriam Hyde died in 2005.
The Fantasy Trio was composed in London during 1933 and may have been influenced by the unique genre created by the demands of the Cobbett Prize. Interestingly, Hyde took second prize in this competition in 1934 with her ‘Phantasy’ for string quartet.
Her one movement Trio is a well-structured work that explores a number of moods. Of particular interest is the considerable tension between the choppy opening theme and serene middle section. Critics appear to have struggled a little in defining her style. The liner-notes allude to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov: her music is described elsewhere as being impressionistic, romantic and pastoral. Nevertheless, I believe that the romantic ‘note’ is the most appropriate. This attractive Fantasy Trio is the ideal companion piece to Hurlstone’s offering.
Neither have I come across the composer Max d’Ollone. I am beholden to the liner-notes for information about both man and music. However, these notes do not state that d’Ollone was a French composer born in Besançon in the Franche-Compté region of France. He died in Paris in 1959. After a precocious start to his career, he entered the Paris Conservatoire aged 6 – he was encouraged by many of France’s senior composers including Gounod, Massenet and Delibes. He held a number of important positions including conductor and director of the Concerts Populaires d’Angers, director of the Ministère des Beaux Artes, and director of the Opéra-Comique. Academic positions included professor of music at the Paris Conservatoire and director of the American Conservatoire at Fontainebleau.
Max d’Ollone’s portfolio of compositions is largely dedicated to the theatre, the opera house and the ballet. Beside the operas there are a number of scores for orchestral, chamber and instrumental forces.
The present Trio in A minor was composed in 1920. This is a hugely romantic work that is full of beautiful post-Wagnerian melodies and harmonies. The formal structure of the work appears to be a subtle balance between ‘traditional forms’ and the use of a cyclical motive. The tunes pour out in great profusion and with huge vitality. The Trio is in four movements.
Dag Wirén, born in Striberg near Stockholm in 1905, is hardly known outwith his native Sweden. Certainly in the United Kingdom, he is basically a ‘one hit wonder’ to use that dreadful Classic FM concept. I guess that everyone has heard the ‘Marcia’ from his Serenade for Strings which was used in the BBC programme Monitor . Yet, he has written a wide range of music including five symphonies, concertos for violin, piano and cello and a wide range of chamber music.
The present Trio is a work that I would not have claimed as ‘romantic’. On the other hand, it is not ‘modernist’ or dependent on serialism. It was composed in Paris at a time when the composer had come under the influence of Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev and some members of ‘Les Six’. The Trio is concise, full of rhythmic energy, contrasting with introverted, dark contrapuntal explorations and neo-baroque constructions. The work’s acerbity is epitomised by the extremely short, concise ‘fughetta’ which makes up the ‘scherzo’.
I have not heard the Trio Anima Mundi before reviewing this CD. They are based in Melbourne, Australia and have been making significant contributions to chamber music in that city since 2008. They have a considerable repertoire, often playing the works of the established masters as well as exploring lesser-known music. The three soloists Kenji Fujimura, Miranda Brockman and Rochelle Ughetti are all established players in their own right. For the curious ‘Anima Mundi’ translates from the Latin as the modest title ‘Soul of the World!’ As I understand it, this is their first CD.
The presentation of this disc is ideal. The sound quality is excellent. I enjoyed the committed playing and consider that the Trio Anima Mundi truly responds to this ‘romantic’ music: they are in their element. The liner-notes, which are written by Kenji Fujimura, are informative and give sufficient information about the composers and the music.
It is a little unusual for there to be two CDs of such relatively short duration in what is not really a ‘double album’. However, it would not have been possible to cram all four works onto one disc. What work would have been omitted? From my point of view I would not like to have lost any of these pieces. Could they have found another piece to ‘fill up’ the first disc? I guess that at a price of £7.95 this really counts as one CD – that has had to be ‘stretched’ a little.
This is a fine debut release. I think that they have been extremely courageous in issuing this disc of ‘discoveries’. It would have been so easy to have recorded a couple of ‘pot-boilers’ to ensure sales. As it is, TAM deserves support from all enthusiasts of Commonwealth composers and chamber music specialists.