I wrote a review
of a CD of the Paul Juon Piano Quartets Opp. 37 and 50 in 2009 (CPO
777 278) and have been trying to work out why I have not heard of him
since then. As a result of hearing the present two significant and large-scale
chamber works I see Juon as a significant and imposing figure straddling
the cusp of late-romanticism and early modernism. Having said that the
Op. 22 Sextet demonstrates less of the latter than any of the other
works. Even so, there are several innovative features.
takes up five tracks of this CD. The second and third
movements could be combined as they make up a rather noble and hymn-like
theme, stated first by the piano, followed by seven variations. Five
of these are in the elegiac Andantino quasi Allegretto
and the remaining two in the shorter Minuetto
(tr. 3); a nice
touch this. Even shorter is the Intermezzo
which just adds a
much needed lightness before the rather Russian and rhythmic finale.
The main emphasis of the work lies however with the first movement which
is pretty much the length of the last three combined. It is marked Moderato
There is a feel of Russian folk music in the first subject especially
when stated so baldly by the piano at the very start. The key of C minor
gives the music that serious Beethovenian edge. The second subject is
given, at least at first, to the viola. The minor key is foremost although
the exposition moves into the relative major towards the end. The key
and something about the piano writing will be reminiscent of Brahms
perhaps the Third Piano Quartet which is also in C minor. There is a
seriousness of purpose but also a strong melodic emphasis, divided equally
between the instruments. Juon is quoted in Jörg Hillebrand’s
excellent accompanying notes as having described his music “almost
throughout rather harsh and of gloomy Nordic colouration”. Harsh,
no, gloomy, no but there is a dark colouration brought about by the
generally low tessitura which he prefers. This is exemplified by the
use of two cellos as well as the viola and heavy bass chords. Don’t
let that put you off - this is moving and never uninteresting music,
which will involve you throughout its process.
is a fully mature work in four movements. The eleven
minute opening Allegro moderato
is a gushing and passionately
romantic utterance. It ends in bliss and serenity after a torrid affair.
This is a very impressive sonata structure incorporating one especially
sensitive passage without the piano in the development section. The
second movement is designated commodo
. I remembered that in the
Op. 37 Piano Quartet Juon seemed to enjoy dance rhythms. This movement
is a sort of galumphing waltz. It’s not one you could dance to
in polite circles but on your own you might strum a hand or foot to
its pounding ostinati and drones - great stuff.
third movement starts in the depths of the cello
and piano with a dark and very Nordic melody. It rises to three passionately
excitable climaxes before ending with an unexpectedly autumnal calm.
The finale is marked Risoluto - irato e con impeto
. With its
occasional unison passages and piano octaves and indeed the rather earnest
fugue in its centre, Risoluto
seems an appropriate term. It’s
an emotionally volatile movement which transports you from the Russian
‘кафе’ (teashop) to the Церковь
(basilica) in seconds and back to the distress of being again human.
Also in some passages it can be difficult to pin down a regular time-signature.
Just as you think we are moving towards a calm and contented ending
Juon throws in another dozen bars of fervour before ending with a confident
This is a terrific piece that I have found riveting on each playing.
It makes a perfect case for Juon’s rehabilitation as an important
figure especially in Russian chamber music. I believe there is also
much orchestral music yet to discover. Let’s hope that some of
these works, for example the concertos, might also soon appear.
The booklet essay tells us little about the music but a great deal about
the life of the composer. There are photos of the performers but there’s
no picture of the composer - rather a pity.