MOZART: Four Preludes and Fugues from String Trio Arrangements (after Bach), K. 404a; Divertimento for String Trio in E-flat Major, K. 563 – The Pasquier Trio
Music&Arts CD-1233, 66:20 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Recent scholarship calls into question the authorship of the six three-part fugues arranged for string trio, presumably by Mozart. Whether they must be attributed to Haydn or to Albrechtsberger may ultimately remain a pedant’s or a purist’s question. The Pasquier Trio (estab. 1927) took up the recording of the Four Preludes and Fugues from WTC I and II and The Art of Fugue in 1951 for Les Discophiles Francais, issued via Haydn Society LP. The 2009 restoration comes to us courtesy of Albert Frantz.
The first of the Bach transcriptions takes the D-sharp Minor from WTC I, No. 8 and casts it in D Minor. Jean Pasquier (1904-1992) projects a nasal but piercing tone, answered by violist Pierre Pasquier (1902-1986) and cellist Etienne Pasquier. The highly chromatic fugue weaves a dark tapestry of severe, haunted beauty. The F-sharp Minor (WTC II, No. 14) comes to us in G Minor, a poignant, even tragic excursion into the anatomy of melancholy. Cellist Etienne Pasquier plays either an ostinato figure or a chromatically moving bass line in rocking motion. Violist Pierre Pasquier opens the fugue, a tightly-knit study in economically dark figures, a dance of death. The Prelude in F Major (from WTC II, No. 12 in F-sharp Major) conveys the “Mozart touch,” that light melodic confidence that cause Alfred Einstein to claim that only Mozart could have penned it. A viola trill and quasi-recitative opens the Fugue, with an added luster to Etienne Pasquier’s cello. Once the violin enters, it rather dominates the proceedings. The highly chromatic Prelude No. 6 urges a sense of tragedy through shifting cello harmonies, reflective of an active bass line not to be appeased through top-line platitudes. At times, Jean Pasquier’s violin line might have been a truncated concerto part. An angular uneasily modal fugue follows, more indicative of W.F. Bach than Johann Sebastian, if dark hue be any indication. At several moments, we can hear anticipations of Mozart’s own contribution to contrapuntal mastery, his Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546.
The Divertimento in E-flat Major (1788) ranks solely as Mozart’s polished work for the string trio form, dedicated to his open-handed friend Michael Puchberg. In six movements, the opus calls upon the virtuosic forces of the players, especially those of the viola and cello, who must reinforce the harmonic texture and climb up or down punishing registers. The opening Allegro proceeds unisono and lyrical episodes, but the contrapuntal writing makes of the string trio an organ toccata. The equality of parts proves even more in evidence in the extended A-flat Adagio, a movement whose noble elasticity and personal anguish resemble moments from the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major. The lustrous viola part inspires Einstein to call this work “a spiritual and sensual fulfillment in sound.” The first of two Menuettos engages us with its spirited charm; the jaunty second of which has two Austrian-landler trios, a habit Schumann will often imitate. Lying between the two Menuets we have a (double) theme and four variations in B-flat Major, the original tune a folk melody, almost a child’s mnemonic device. The violin part becomes quite virtuosic, but no less so the viola in variation two. Variation Three sojourns into the minor; in the final variation, the viola is prominent in chorale under the violin’s running figures. The last movement’s theme resembles that of the last movement of the Piano Concerto K. 595 in B-flat and a song, “Longing After the Spring,” K. 596. Sunny and out-doorsy, the music concludes in a charming sonata-form conducive to the divertimento style of the period. The Pasquiers have rendered a stylistic performance whose clean lines make a fine rival to the Heifetz-Primrose-Feuermann inscription of the 1930s that set the standard for everyone.