The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Tor Johan Bøen*† , Anders Nilsson* (violin) Are Sandbakken*, Juliet Jopling† (viola) Johannes Martens† (cello)
It has taken several years of research into manuscripts and sketches to arrive at the performing versions of Eugène Ysaÿe’s string trios used in these premiere recordings. The earliest, the trio for two violins and viola, had a long gestation period: it was begun in 1914 but not completed until 1925. The result was a highly complex score lasting almost 40 minutes in which the listener is offered a generous feast of readily attractive melodic invention, though it is Ysaÿe’s mastery of counterpoint and polyphonic part writing that proves more interesting.
The work presents an enormous challenge to the performers both in terms of stamina and dexterity, but the Norwegian players perfectly balance the often dense textures as interweaving melodic strands pass, often at high speed, around them.
By comparison, the two works for a conventional string trio from 1927 are quite short, more harmonically adventurous and show tendencies towards the developments of the Second Viennese School.
The group here changes to the viola of Juliet Jopling and, despite the intonation of Tor Johan Bøen’s violin not being without blemish, these are able and dedicated interpretations. The sound quality is a little dry but it benefits music that could easily become opaque.