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Napoléon-Henri REBER (1807-1880)
Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 16 (1862) [30:14]
Piano Trio No. 5 in C, Op. 30 (1872) [17:37]
Piano Trio No. 7 in A minor, Op. 37 (1880) [25:05]
Trio Élégiaque
rec. Coeur de Ville, Vincennes, December 2012
TIMPANI 1C1205 [72:56]

Napoléon-Henri Reber, although apparently an unsuccessful student at the Paris Conservatoire, would eventually, in a delicious twist of fate, return there to teach harmony and composition. His music, while attractively Romantic in style, is substantial, structured with a certain "Classical" rigour. Annotator Charlotte Loriot's claim to hear "the stamp of Haydn and Mozart" in it, however, is a stretch. The hunting-hornish theme that dominates the Scherzo of the A minor Trio - the only such free-standing scherzo in these scores - does have a Haydnesque cut to it. That said, Reber's style of writing for the three instruments, treating them as equal, independent voices, bears little resemblance to that of Hayd, where the cello mostly tags along on the piano's bass lines.
 
The stronger immediate influence is, more likely, Brahms. While the surging passion of the G minor Trio's first subject foreshadows the French post-Wagnerians, the sonorities, in the piano writing particularly, have a Brahmsian cast. So does the rising motif in string octaves that launches the A minor Trio. The finales, too, incorporate familiar Brahmsian elements: the vaguely "Hungarian" repeated-note patterns in the G minor, and the short, driving rhythmic motifs in the C major.
 
Yet Reber's aesthetic remains unmistakably French. In the G minor Trio's first movement, the lyrical second theme tempers rigour with Gallic grace. In the slow movements, he favours duple time, which could be flatfooted, but handles it with simple elegance, particularly in the Adagio cantabile of the G minor. A fetching syncopated waltz dominates the first-movement development of the C major, while the same score's sombre, elegiac Andante sostenuto illustrates that Reber could stiffen charm with seriousness.
 
The Trio Élégiaque is first-class, playing fully and expressively, successfully projecting the music's Classical and Romantic aspects. Both of the firm-bowed string players produce vibrant tone; in the G minor's first movement, where Reber fills out chordal textures with double-stopping, they're adept at simulating a larger ensemble. The pianist, François Dumont, is a laureate of the 2010 Chopin Competition, as his dexterous, fully-weighted execution of scales and embellishments makes evident. Their strong individual personalities notwithstanding, the three players mesh to project unified interpretations. The sound is excellent.
 
It's such a pleasure, after all these years of listening, to discover good music I've not heard before. This will appeal strongly to chamber-music aficionados.
 
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
 
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf