Röntgen: Complete String Trios Vol.2
The Lendvai Trio release the second disc in a series of the complete String Trios by Dutch composer Julius Rontgen (1855‐1932) The trio's journey began in 2007 when they stumbled across Rontgen's first string trio (the only one published to date), and soon after discovered that there are fifteen more, carefully stored in handwritten manuscript form in the Netherlands Music Institute in the Hague.
A major award ‐ The Kersjes Prize ‐ and support from Champs Hill Records has enabled this project to be realised. A unique feature of these works is its numerous references to traditional Dutch tunes and dances. Roentgen's interest in folk music was largely due to his friendship with Edvard Grieg, with whom he traveled through Norway in search of Norwegian folk songs. For Röntgen it became important to do the same for the traditional music of Holland, and he considered the dissemination and popularization of his national music as one of his most important tasks.
The Lendvai Trio are Dutch violinist Nadia Wijzenbeek, Swedish violist Ylvali Zilliacus and British cellist Marie Macleod. Since their Wigmore Hall debut in 2006, the Lendvai String Trio has had a busy schedule of concerts at major venues throughout Europe, including several re‐invitations to Wigmore Hall, recitals at King's Place, the Barbican and Purcell Room in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Musikaliska in Stockholm."... there's an order of mastery casually involved here that's quite out of the ordinary." International Record Review
"The Lendvai Trio's enthusiasm for these works compels attention, and one can hear the broad grins on their faces as they played..." Gramophone
- Sleeve Notes
There is a certain tendency towards irreverence in the Dutch spirit that causes Julius Röntgen's countrymen to refer to his great talent with gentle mockery. Röntgen's professional reputation enjoyed a noticeably higher regard in other countries, and he earned accolades abroad that eluded him in his home nation. One such distinction was the honorary doctorate conferred upon him by the University of Edinburgh in 1930, presented by Sir Donald Francis Tovey. After Röntgen's death, The Times published a eulogy written by the esteemed musicologist, who referred to Röntgen's works with praise: 'Röntgen's compositions, published and unpublished, cover the whole range of music in every art form; they all show consummate mastery in every aspect of technique; even in the most facile there is beauty and wit; each series of works culminates in something that has the uniqueness of a living masterpiece.' Besides his international reputation as a renowned pianist and composer, he was also in high demand as a teacher, turning down offers abroad in favour of staying in Amsterdam. Composers such as Grieg and Brahms respected him highly and sought his friendship. As a pianist, he enjoyed collaborations with some of the great musicians of his time: singer Johannes Messchaert, cellist Pablo Casals, and violinist Carl Flesch, among others.
Julius Röntgen's came from a very musical family. His father Engelbert, a violinist, was born in the Netherlands (Deventer) and later emigrated to Leipzig, Germany, where he played in the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He married the pianist Pauline Klengel, who came from a family with a long musical tradition. Julius, the eldest child and only son, spent his youth in Leipzig. His parents were well connected within the highest musical circles, and regularly received musicians such as Felix Mendelssohn, Niels Gade and Joseph Joachim in their home. Julius R'ntgen's grandfather taught him the fundamentals of piano and violin playing, and his parents themselves took responsibility for his further training. R'ntgen's exceptional musical talent was apparent at an early stage, but his father seems to have done his best to prevent his son from leading the typical life of a child prodigy. In addition to the training that he received from his parents, R'ntgen studied for short periods of time with teachers such as Louis Plaidy, Carl Reinecke, Moritz Hauptmann and Franz Lachner. Within a few years, R'ntgen gained a widespread reputation as a piano virtuoso, performing throughout Europe.
He began writing music at a young age, publishing his first composition in Germany in 1871. Only a few years later, he was invited to accept a teaching position in Amsterdam. After some hesitation, he settled there in 1877, making an immediate impact on the level of his students. In 1884, together with a number of colleagues, he founded the Amsterdamsch Conservatorium where he also served as managing director from 1913 until 1924.
Despite his busy career as a concert pianist, teacher, conductor and director of the Conservatory, R'ntgen managed to compose more than 600 compositions. Many of these works remain obscure, and even R'ntgen himself admitted in an interview that he did not know all of his own compositions. As a fellow composer once recalled: 'In the time it takes for someone to pick up a pen and paper, and to write down the keys and signs, R'ntgen had probably already composed the beginning of a fugue.' For R'ntgen it was his usual practice, since the music was already completed in his head before he committed it to paper.
During R'ntgen's lifetime, only one hundred of his compositions were published, the first thirty-one of them by the German firm Breitkopf und H'rtel. Most of R'ntgen's manuscripts are in the depots of the Netherlands Music Institute in The Hague. Recent years have seen a concerted effort to record the majority of his symphonic works and solo concertos; however, much of R'ntgen's chamber music is still lying in obscurity.
This series of recordings by the Lendvai String Trio is therefore a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted with a rich and diverse corner of Julius R'ntgen's oeuvre: the complete string trios.
THE STRING TRIOS
R'ntgen wrote sixteen String Trios, fifteen of which have never been published. For the most part, the Trios were also neither numbered nor named by the composer (an exception being the Walzer Suite), leaving the year of composition and key signature as the only means of their identification.
For someone who had starting composing in his teens, it is surprising that R'ntgen came to the genre of String Trios only later in life, completing his first trio in 1915 at the age of 60 and the last trio in 1930, two years before his death. The reasons for this remain obscure, but it is clear that chamber music played an important part in R'ntgen's life. In 1912, he formed a professional piano trio with two of his sons from his first marriage (Engelbert, a cellist, and Julius Jr., a violinist). With this ensemble, he gave concerts for years. However, R'ntgen had another favourite instrument, the viola, and with two sons from his second marriage (Edvard and Joachim), he played string trios, presumably only at home, where he himself played the viola parts.
At the end of 1919, R'ntgen became an official citizen of the Netherlands. Shortly thereafter he celebrated his 65th birthday, but instead of decreasing his activities and responsibilities, he kept himself busier than ever. He retained his position as director of the Amsterdam Conservatory until 1924, accepted private students, and even started to concertize again. From 1920 to 1923, R'ntgen composed a great deal of vocal music, chamber music (including several string quartets), some orchestral pieces, concertos, and a number of contrapuntal works for piano.
Alongside his considerable compositional output during this period R'ntgen also focused on a completely different metier, that of folk music. Around 1920 he met with the singer and musicologist Max Friedlander, with whom he collected and (re)edited both classical songs and folk songs. A few years later, R'ntgen began a collaboration with filmmaker Dirk Jan van der Ven (1891'1973), whose documentaries portrayed images of everyday life in the Netherlands. The films were shown in theatres throughout Holland as well as abroad with R'ntgen providing live accompaniment at the keyboard, playing original music based on traditional Dutch tunes. R'ntgen felt that the dissemination and popularization of his own national music was one of his most important priorities. The fact that traditional Dutch music had not yet won the public's appreciation was perplexing to him, as he considered these tunes to be representative of his nation's strongly individual character.
R'ntgen and his family spent most of their holidays in Catrijp, a small village on the sea. During these summers R'ntgen wrote his Second, Third, and Fourth String Trios. However, the outbreak of World War I changed their financial situation considerably, and from 1920 onwards the R'ntgens spent their holidays on Schiermonnikoog, the smallest of the Dutch North Sea islands. Within a short time the family had developed such friendly relations with the locals that they were invited to stay rent-free, under the condition that they were willing to give daily concerts. R'ntgen was very pleased with this arrangement and considered living on the island full-time. During the family's first summer there he composed the Seventh String Trio.
The four trios on this CD were composed in a very short time, three of them within one year. In December 1920 R'ntgen wrote to his friend, the baritone Johannes Messchaert that he 'made seven string trios which we are playing one after the other, Joachim, Edvard and I on my old beloved viola'. Through all of R'ntgen's String Trios it is obvious that he had extensive experience playing chamber music. The challenging viola parts, full of high positions, leads one to suppose that R'ntgen himself must have been an impressive violist.
The Fifth Trio (January 7'12, 1920) was dedicated 'in old friendship' to Richard van Rees. At the time, van Rees was Chairman of the Board of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, but he had also served as Chairman at the Maatschappij van Toonkunst, where R'ntgen had conducted for years. Being so long acquainted, the two men knew each other well in both professional and personal contexts. This trio has a light and sunny first movement. The second movement is strikingly tender, almost contemplative, and very moving. It brings us through a dense texture of voice-leading into the last movement. Here it seems as though R'ntgen has set ten loose fragments on paper, each with its own tempo and character, but in fact the movement takes the shape of variations on the main theme, later re-introducing the theme of the first movement. The end of the movement seems to hesitate in choosing a theme, and the piece ends with no conclusion.
The Sixth (March 30'April 5, 1920) and Seventh (August, 1920) String Trios are notable for the numerous themes that bear a resemblance to folk music. Both of them have light-footed scherzo movements in which the string players can display their virtuosity. In the first movement of the Sixth Trio, R'ntgen uses irregular time signatures, voice-leading in close intervals, and chorales as interludes. The third movement is distinctly mysterious, feeling as though the music never comes to life. Almost every bar begins with a rest, and the motives rarely develop into melodies, sounding like question marks. Doubt wanders around in this piece. In contrast, the slow movement of the Seventh Trio is full of fascinating melodies, and R'ntgen excels in moving the themes seamlessly from one instrument to another. Both trios end with an exuberant final movement. In number six, we are confronted with a never-ending waltz. The main theme switches continuously between the string players, finally ending in a glorious finale with a short reference to the opening theme from the first movement. The last movement of the Seventh Trio recalls a preparation for a big party in a small village, complete with a number of peasant dances: perhaps a reminiscence of that year's joyful holiday in Schiermonnikoog.
The last string trio presented here was composed a year and a half later. Number Eight is the first of three string trios from 1923. Two things attract attention here: the absence of a slow movement and the numerous corrections R'ntgen made in his score. The trio starts with a tender, intimate atmosphere, while the other movements are dominated by a number of folk tunes. The second movement is particularly witty and full of contrasting rhythms. The last movement contains an impressive array of material, beginning in a rhapsodic fashion with brief sections which R'ntgen marked 'improvisando' but suddenly being diverted to another theme, followed yet again by a few folk songs. The widening of this theme and acceleration towards the end make a stunning finale to this work.
Margaret Krill (English edited by Shuann Chai)
- Press Reviews
" [Rontgen's Trios have] been beautifully served once again by the recording team and performers."
- MusicWeb International
"The Lendvai Trio once more acquit themselves with flying colours, their infectios enthusiasm consistently communicated."
"[The Trios were] part of an amazing burst of senior-level creativity... their tunes are lively, their structures clear and easily grasped"
- American Record Guide
"The Lendvai's playing is lucid, sweet, and well focussed, displayed in a fine, clean recording."
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