Röntgen: String Trios Nos.1-4
The Lendvai Trio embark on a series of CDs of the complete String Trios by Dutch composer Julius Röngten (1855-'‐1932) The trio's journey began in 2007 when they stumbled across Röngten'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 Röngten 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.
'... I'd pick up the Lendvai String Trio's calling card...These are full‐blooded, confident musicians...'
- The Times
'... The Lendvai trio has a deep well of energy... this was persuasive playing, technically of the highest order... '
- The Strad
- Sleeve Notes
This wonderful project of discovering, performing and recording the complete 3 string trios by Julius R'ntgen has been a truly monumental and tremendous experience for us; to present this first disc is a dream come true. Our journey began in 2007 when we stumbled across R'ntgen'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. Intrigued, we began to investigate further, and to our astonishment realised that none of these wonderful works had been performed in public, let alone recorded. It has been a privilege to be the first ensemble to rediscover these string trios which have been archived in the library for over 80 years. Reading and playing from the old handwritten scores, instead of the usual computer-published sheet music we are used to, has added a very personal touch to the journey.
Thanks to the Kersjes Prize and Champs Hill Records we have been able to record and bring to life this colourful and captivating music, which we hope you will enjoy as much as we do.
Nadia, Ylvali & Marie
JULIUS R'NTGEN (1855-1932): PASSIONATE MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER
There is a certain tendency towards irreverence in the Dutch spirit that causes Julius R'ntgen's countrymen to refer to his great talent with gentle mockery. R'ntgen'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 the esteemed musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey. After R'ntgen's death, The Times published a eulogy written by Tovey, who referred to R'ntgen's works with praise: 'R'ntgen'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 R'ntgen 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 tookresponsibility 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 1925.
Despite his busy career as a concert pianist, teacher, conductor and director of the Conservatory, R'ntgen managed to write 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.
The four string trios on this first CD are short, varied and generally very playful, with a certain joie de vivre. The form of the individual movements is recognizably classical in structure with occasional contrapuntal episodes. A unique feature of these works is its numerous references to traditional Dutch tunes and dances. R'ntgen's interest in folk music was largely due to his friendship with Edvard Grieg, with whom he travelled through Norway in search of Norwegian folk songs. For R'ntgen 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 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. In his later years, his interest led him to dabble in film music for what he called a 'national epos'. One such project was a collaboration with director Dirk Jan van der Ven (1891-1973) on a film about Dutch life in summer; it was shown in theaters with R'ntgen providing accompaniment at the keyboard.
THE FIRST FOUR STRING TRIOS
By 1892, R'ntgen was spending most of his summer holidays in Fuglsang, Denmark, which remained one of his most beloved destinations. It was a meeting place for families, friends and musicians who gathered every evening to play chamber music together, something R'ntgen also did on a regular basis at home with his children or with other musicians who happened to be passing by. With the outbreak of World War I, R'ntgen and his family were unable to travel abroad for several years. Remaining in the neutral territory of Holland, they spent the summers of 1918 and 1919 at the coast of the North Sea in the small village of Catrijp, near Bergen. There, chamber music remained an important part of the R'ntgen family holiday. Together with his sons Julius Jr., Joachim and Edvard, R'ntgen spent many happy hours playing string quartets, and in this relaxed atmosphere also composed many new works.
FIRST STRING TRIO, OPUS 76
Written in 1915, R'ntgen's First String Trio was published in Germany nine years later, in 1924. Remarkably, it is the only one of his works in this genre to have been published to date. The impetus for composing this particular trio can be found in a letter to his friend Carl Flesch (1873-1944), the Hungarian-German violinist: 'For my birthday I have made a jolly string trio; it is a protest against my 60 years.' Indeed, in this four-movement work, cheerful musical ideas abound.
The first movement is a compositional exposition of polyphonic textures. In the second movement, the viola symbolizes a spinning wheel while the violin floats above the surface with a lonely, birdlike song: a melancholic intermezzo in this 'jolly' string trio. The third movement is a lively forum for R'ntgen's love of Old Dutch dances. R'ntgen acknowledges J.S. Bach at the beginning of the last movement, called Passepied, where polyphony becomes a focal point once more. This movement is composed of eight micro-movements, each with different time signatures and tempi. The shifting rhythms lend a feeling of humorous displacement, which R'ntgen also exploits throughout the work with rambling three- and four-bar phrases. The trio's frequent use of staccato and pizzicato lends a remarkable lightness to the work's texture, enhancing its playful nature.
SECOND STRING TRIO
The next three String Trios were composed during the summers of 1918 and 1919. R'ntgen's natural surroundings were clearly a source of inspiration for him: in a letter to the singer Johannes Messchaert written in the summer of 1917, he extolled the beauty of the landscape around Bergen. During these summers, R'ntgen lived with his family in a small cottage just behind the dunes where he made long daily trips on his bicycle, experiences that found their way into musical expression in a number of new compositions. The scenery of the polders (re-claimed land), dunes and the sea provided the composer with a creative burst of energy resulting in a remarkably prodigious output.
We find Dvor'k's name, one of R'ntgen's most beloved composers, written at the very opening of the first movement of the Second String Trio. A short and energetic motif from the introduction of Dvor'k's Violin Concerto acts here not only as a starting point, but it dominates the whole movement. The second movement is uniquely beautiful, featuring an atmospheric duet between the violin and viola juxtaposed with a mysterious intermezzo with the cello. The last movement begins with an exciting hunting motif, and ends with the return of Dvor'k's motif to conclude this masterfully composed Trio.
THIRD AND FOURTH STRING TRIOS
Despite the fact that R'ntgen completed these two trios within four days of each other, the difference between these compositions is remarkable. The Third String Trio (completed the 24th of August 1919, Catrijp) begins with a scherzo, but eases into a lyrical and very intimate setting reminiscent of a fairy-tale. The second movement provides an abrupt contrast to this atmosphere, first with a flurry of activity as the instrumental lines chase each other, followed by a peasants' dance, full of passion and fire. The third movement symbolizes an Old Dutch wedding tradition in which it was customary to dance the bride to her bed. In R'ntgen's hands, this takes the shape of a graceful lullaby. The trio ends with an innocent and intimate dance, disturbed only with a few unexpected, thrilling dissonances.
This series of R'ntgen's first four String Trios is capped off by the Walzer Suite (dated the 28th of August 1919, Catrijp), a potpourri of peasant dances and Viennese Waltzes that tumble over each other in six short movements. The second waltz, for example, is gentle and melancholic with an underlying bourdon played by the cello. The following movement, with unexpected accents in a 3⁄4 meter, is reminiscent of a mazurka. Waltzes four and five are again very delicate, flowing into each other; and the work comes to an end with a rousing finale that begins with a fugal theme, but surprises us at the very end by returning to the theme of the first waltz.
- Press Reviews
"... captivating discoveries, full of fresh and memorable thematic invention..."
"... performed here by the Lendvai String Trio with great energy and musical commitment."
- Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine
"The Lendvai Trio's enthusiasm for these works compels attention, and one can hear the broad grins on their faces as they played."
- Guy Rickards, Gramophone
"... there's an order of mastery casually involved here that's quite out of the ordinary."
"The sound is up to Champs Hill's customary level, lively and resonant, as befits the music perfectly"
- Calum MacDonald, International Record Review
"The [Lendvai Trio's] performances match the music in spirit and engaging directness and have been finely recorded."
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
"With beautifully clear, natural sound, listening to this disc is a delightful way to spend an hour."
"[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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