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LUDWIG THUILLE - CHAMBER MUSIC
London Conchord Ensemble, Falk Quartet & Tomer Lev

 

 

Artist(s):
London Conchord Ensemble,
Falk String Quartet,
Tomer Lev, piano
Daniel Pailthorpe, Flute
Emily Pailthorpe, Oboe

LUDWIG THUILLE (1861-1907)
 
Sextet for piano and wind quintet in B flat major
Trio for violin, viola and piano in E flat major
Piano Quintet in E flat
Piano Quintet in G minor

Two CD Box Set

Two newly re-mastered CDs of Ludwig Thuille�s superb chamber music are released here as a box-set, in a smart cardboard sleeve. Thuille�s chamber music is little known, but gradually receiving more prominence in the concert hall; and deservedly so, for it shows some wonderful romantic writing for chamber ensembles. The piano quintets were described as �Ecstatic beauty� by Strad Magazine.

The works here are expertly performed by two excellent chamber groups: The Falk Quintet (with Tomer Lev, piano) on one CD, and the London Conchord Ensemble on the second disc. Extensive booklet notes by Tomer Lev - pianist on the disc and leading Thuille expert - accompany the recordings; the first releases on the new Champs Hill Records label.


 

 


Ludwig Thuille - Chamber Music
 
Despite a substantial and diverse compositional output, Ludwig Thuille is perhaps best remembered for his seminal harmonic textbook, the Harmonielehre. This volume is, somewhat misleadingly, referred to as the �Louis Thuille� on account of the co-authorship of Thuille and Rudolf Louis, resulting in a title which renders Thuille's name apparently Gallic. In fact, Thuille is a Tyrolean name; the composer was born in Bozen (later Bolzano) on 30 November 1861. Thuille's reputation has since been eclipsed by that of Richard Strauss, but the two were friends and correspondents from adolescence up until Thuille's death, from sudden heart failure, on 5 February 1907. Their admiration was mutual: Strauss dedicated his tone poem Don Juan to the older composer, and, in a discussion of his Sinfonia Domestica, deferred to Thuille with the comment, �You are the better counterpointer�.

Thuille's contrapuntal facility is perhaps unsurprising given his education. Following a rigorous musical upbringing as a chorister in the Kremsm Benedictine monastery, Thuille was taken in by the highly musical Nagiller family of Innsbruck, which arranged his formal musical education from the age of 15. In 1879 Thuille entered Munich's Royal School of Music where he was taught by Joseph von Rheinberger, whose fastidious attitude to counterpoint had a lasting effect on Thuille's musical language.

It was during this time that Thuille's relationship with Strauss cooled a little; the former was at music college while the latter was still at grammar school, yet while encouragement was lavished upon the younger composer, Thuille met with a dearth of such praise and patronage. But it was a later falling-out between the two composers to which Thuille's devotion to chamber music can in part be attributed. A series of contentious comments surrounding Strauss's over-written Taillfer led to a misunderstanding, from which their friendship only recovered shortly before Thuille's death. His criticism of the work was exaggerated to Strauss, who took great offence. This conflict, as well as Thuille's own failure to succeed in the genre of opera, can account for his soured relationship with such a large-scale medium. And while Strauss did not pursue chamber music with the same assiduity as Thuille, the older composer blossomed through smaller-scale works into his maturity; tantalisingly so, as the quality of the music suggests greater things to come. The French horn features prominently in many Strauss works, and it is this instrument that, along with the piano, opens the first two movements of Thuille's Sextet in B flat, Op.6 (sometimes listed as Op.5), published in 1889. The Allegro moderato is characterised by the distinctive contrast between lyricism and jollity. The warm opening subject, in which the various combinations of instruments available are explored, gives way to material dominated by dotted rhythms and played by the winds in alternation with the piano, showing Thuille exploiting the array of possible sonorities from this ensemble.

The opening horn line is taken over by clarinet, then flute and bassoon take up the theme before the full ensemble passes through a series of fluid modulations. This in turn leads to a pared-down section in which the piano accompanies soloistic phrases for clarinet, flute and then oboe. The spotlight then falls on piano alone, some of the writing for which might almost belong to a concerto, as though to demonstrate that the piano is by no means confined to an accompanimental role in this work. This solo is gradually joined by the remaining instruments, after which the various combinations are repeated: piano solo, clarinet and piano, bassoon and flute with piano, then the fuller ensemble. It is now that the contrasting material emerges to surprise the listener: the winds are grouped together, their dialogue with the piano characterised by great joie de vivre. The following developmental passages ebb and flow between delicate textures and high drama, with subtle instrumental writing. For instance, Thuille pairs horn and bassoon in such a way that the latter operates as a second horn; their hunting-horn style figures add a pastoral quality to the movement. The opening section is then recapitulated, beginning with the soloistic passages followed by the dotted-rhythm material. A build in drama precedes the final return of the movement's initial lyricism before jollity wins out, driving the movement to its close.

Thuille's deft alternation of instrumental roles continues during the autumnal Larghetto, which features a warmly blended wind choir playing passages independently of the piano, before the piano takes over the theme, staccato winds decorating its solo. Pairings of the wind instruments, such as clarinet and bassoon in octaves, sound deceptively simple to the listener, but in fact demand precise ensemble playing from the instrumentalists. This is a paradox central to the chamber music tradition and one that also applies to the Trio: great accuracy and skill are required to convey apparent effortlessness and ease. Following the central trio, the movement ends with warm colours: the flute in its lower register followed by the combination of piano, clarinet, bassoon and horn.

The Gavotte opens with a sprightly oboe melody which is then passed around the other instruments. Witty and galant, the movement might almost be a parody of Baroque elegance; it certainly captures Carl Dahlhaus's description of chamber music's nature requiring �an attitude of light-handed gentility�. In addition to this, however, there is virtuosity, albeit of a skittish kind, in the quicksilver trio, Doppio movimento, heralded by robust piano chords. This lively character spills over into the finale, with the thematic material passed from instrument to instrument in a fleet-footed, lightly-textured conclusion to the work. The Sextet is remarkable for its quirky amalgamation of lyricism and humour, as well as for the control Thuille shows in his very specific and idiomatic instrumental writing. Thuille's Trio is more conventional than the Sextet, both harmonically and structurally. The joyously airy writing, injected with moments of turbulent passion, might be argued to be the Austro-German equivalent of the chamber works of Borodin or Franck, and had not the �New German� school, which favoured large-scale works, dominated Thuille's home land so thoroughly, it is possible that his chamber music would have achieved the popularity enjoyed by those two composers.

The first movement's sonata form is articulated by Classically-influenced, architectured piano writing, as opposed to the Sextet's liquid pianism. In common with the Sextet, however, is the duet writing; the violin and viola parts, as with the wind pairings, shift between conversational exchanges, and material played together separated by octaves, requiring precise performance.

A substantial slow movement opens with the viola playing a stately theme, before the insistent piano rhythm increases the music's momentum, creating an understated tension that pervades the whole movement. Even during the sunny
central section, melancholy simmers beneath the surface and returns in the reprise of the opening material. It is unclear which mood will prevail until the final Tierce de Picardie ends the movement in the major, like the sun breaking through the clouds. The minuet's innocent opening belies the drama that unfolds in the central trio; again Thuille's style is permeated by strong contrasts. These tensions are resolved in the finale, its rumbustious character incorporating the joys and passions of the whole work. The late 19th-century focus on large musical forces can draw the attention away from any advancements made in chamber music, but writing for few instruments need not denote a lack of musical ambition, and Thuille's chamber works are at times symphonic in their structural scope. As with the Sextet, the Trio shows Thuille writing with great awareness of the instruments, fusing filigree piano writing with the singing violin and mellow viola. While perhaps not as grandly impressive as the large orchestral works of his day, Thuille's chamber music displays substantial skill in a more exposed, less celebrated genre.
 
Piano Quintets
 

Born in Bolzano (Bozen), capital of Southern Tirol, Ludwig Thuille lived and created in fin de si�cle Munich. Founder of the �Munich School of Composition�, he was one of the leading forces in pre World-War I Germany. His operas were successfully performed in central opera houses from Moscow to New York; his vocal and instrumental pieces were often performed in Europe's main concert venues; and his reputation as professor of theory and composition at the Royal Academy in Munich attracted some of the continent's greatest young talents (his most famous student was Ernst Bloch). His treatise on harmony (Harmonielehre) became a standard textbook throughout Europe and many of the continent's musicians were brought up on Thuille's harmonic thoughts and conceptions. Thuille's close friend was Richard Strauss. Strauss became a champion of Thuille's music and was influential in promoting his works. The correspondence between the two encompasses hundreds of pages and 30 years of close friendship. It was published as a book, which illuminates the era in a fascinating light. Thuille is especially interesting for us because of his chamber music, so central to his output. After all, it was written at a time when most composers neglected the chamber realm and preferred the grandiose Symphony of a Thousand over the intimacy of the quartet. And so, in contrast to the symphonic monuments of Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss, who did not make meaningful contributions to the genre, Thuille preferred the intimacy of chamber music and regarded it as an ideal platform for his instrumental �monuments�. In this respect, Thuille's chamber output can be regarded as a missing link between Brahms and Schoenberg. Furthermore, it was of the very first examples to fuse �progressive� post-Wagnerian language and �traditional� Brahmsian structure, thus bridging the polemical abyss that tore the European music world for more than a generation and divided it into �Wagnerians� and the �Brahmins� .

From a narrow Modernist point of view, Thuille played no role in music history. He was no innovator, nor did he share the radical views of some of his contemporaries. Shortly after his untimely death, on the eve of World War I, his historical image was solidified: conservative, overly sweet, �Romantic� in the negative sense of the word. This image eventually caused his works to disappear from concert halls, and his scores - from circulation. Today, some 102 years after his death, in an era of Neo-Romanticism and Post-Modernism, it seems that we are ready to re-evaluate Thuille and accept him for the wonderful qualities his music does possess: harmonic and melodic treasures, immaculate technique, and highly developed architecture.

Ludwig Thuille's Piano Quintet op. 20 (1901) is regarded as the composer's greatest chamber achievement. It is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious
examples of the Romantic Piano Quintet in the generation after Brahms. It is a large-scale work (almost 45 minutes in length), daring in its post-Wagnerian chromaticism and symphonic in its grandeur and sonorities. Nevertheless, a clear sense of form distinguishes the work from standard post-Wagnerian writing, thus endowing the piece with an attractive balance between tradition and adventure. The first movement is written in a monumental Sonata-Allegro form. It opens with a euphoric sweep, later followed by a set of lyrical episodes and darker passages. Much of the music has something of a �Richard Straussian� waltz, thus pointing at the common stylistic background that bound Thuille and Strauss.

The second movement, opening with a religious Chorale, may call to mind Bruckner's Symphonies in its Gothic, massive architecture. Each repetition of the Chorale is more developed than its predecessor, culminating with an overwhelming central climax. A quieter coda brings the movement back to the tender, mysterious atmosphere of the opening.

The third movement is written in the spirit of a L�ndler, the Austrian peasant dance, and evokes Mahler's ironic-macabre treatment of folk-like tunes. A celestial trio creates a sharp contrast to the outer sections of the movement. The last movement is an energetic, optimistic Finale. It opens with a cadenza for solo piano, and ends with a hymn-like apotheosis of previous themes - a common trait in many works of the time.

The early Piano Quintet in G minor (1880) is a concise,, condensed piece in three movements. Its first movement is a passionate, dramatic Sonata-Allegro movement, balanced by several lyrical, pastoral episodes. The second movement is a beautiful prayer-like movement and evokes Brahms' long, seemingly endless lines, so typical of his slow movements. This is the spiritual core of the entire quintet and definitely is one of young Thuille's best achievements. The piece ends with a fast, dance-like third movement, adding a folkloristic flavour to the quintet. The entire work is tied by common motives, appearing in all three movements and suggesting a cyclic conception.

Joanna Wyld


“This is a performance that ought to win friends.”
MusicWeb International

“Listeners who want to explore European art music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with extraordinary thoroughness may want to try him out, and this two-disc set would be a fine place to start.”
AllMusic

   
   

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