The Griller String Quartet and Rubbra Trio Play = RUBBRA: String Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 73; Piano Trio in One Movement, Op. 68; HAYDN: Adagio cantabile from Piano Trio in F Minor; MOZART: Piano Trio in G Major, K. 496 – Griller String Quartet/Rubbra, Gruenberg, Pleeth Trio
Dutton CDBP 9792, 72:14 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) composed several serious chamber music pieces in the early 1950’s, and they were recorded soon after their premiers. This disc reproduces a series of 1952 inscriptions–the Rubbra works taken from an Argo LP–and so provides us the sound of an ensemble in which the composer, cellist William Pleeth, and the violinist Erich Gruenberg participated until the end of the decade. Gruenberg has some high repute, having recorded Scheherazade with Stokowski and the Beethoven Concerto with Horenstein.
We open with the Griller Quartet’s rendition of the meditative, darkly colored E-flat Quartet (rec. 9-13 June 1952) of Rubbra, commissioned by the Griller Quartet in 1950. The severe expressiveness of the opening movement, along with its third movement, Cavatina, make allusions to Beethoven that prove as organic as they referential. Often, the two violins play inversions of each other’s tonal progressions, creating unity, certainly, but also restricting the affective gestures and eliciting a sense of confinement, despite the lack of bar lines. The music remains tonal, even modal, but the syntax strikes us as idiosyncratically influenced by Bartok as well as Beethoven‘s Op. 130. The D Major Scherzo polymetrico sounds like an etude in metric irregularities, which, oddly enough, convey an Elizabethan character, a fancy in the manner of an eccentric, modernized Purcell. The G Major Cavatina (Adagio e tranquillo) is a four-part contrapunctus in long-phrased ¾. A series of stretti, on fifths, leads to a cello outburst; then, after the viola plays the opening bars, the composer uses fourths in E Major to conclude this lovely, but somewhat askew, song. The final Allegro communicates energetic, if hothouse, affects, the music driven by strong pulsations in the lower strings. The violin concertante and the chorale writing for the ensemble become quite moving, and the piece ends in a poised aether.
Rubbra’s Piano Trio (1949-1950) easily falls into three sections, although conceived as a single movement. The piano writing eschews virtuosity, and its underlining of basic, meditative themes reminds us of the dark contours of the Franck Piano Quintet. Strict counterpoint and free rhythms collide, as though two aesthetics were in contention. The selective fragmentation of the long themes allows for their development in the Episodio scherzando, so the piece becomes through-composed. Intricate and moody, we feel the presence of Franck once more, from his Symphonic Variations. The textures become quite thick, and an A-flat Major tune emerges, maestoso. Three slow meditations ensue, and both violin and cello share their respective, expressive thoughts over the piano’s dirge-like progressions.
The Haydn Trio Adagio is delightful–you should be able to recognize the tune–if you know your Haydn symphony slow movements. Mozart’s Piano Trio in G (1786) allows each of the members a degree of independence, making the music a terzetto rather than an expanded sonata. Rubbra’s piano part, rather expansive, demonstrates his lithely articulate facility at the keyboard. Rubbra and Gruenberg transition to a gentle subject in tenths between the right hand piano and the violin. The piano leads the somber Andante, joined by a plaintive violin, then by Pleeth’s cello, whose part remains relatively subdued throughout. A gavotte theme provides the impetus for the last movement Allegretto, and here the trio trips lightly, transparently, in thoroughly galant good humor. Impeccable sonic documents from Michael Dutton, as per expectation.