Cras, Roussel, Françaix

Though their Françaix and Roussel are fine enough recomendations in their own right it's for the Offenburg's Jean Cras Trio that I especially commend this disc. The ceaseless invention and individuality of expression of this remarkable work is conveyed with perfectly idiomatic understanding by a group whose first recording, amazingly, this is. Let's have more and soon. I called the body of work they played here "wilful and complex" and rehearing the disc has only deepend my admiration for it and for the performances. MusicWeb international

These three French string trios make fascinating disc-mates. Each demonstrates a degree of mastery over form; each establishes a distinct sound and emotive world and each presents a highly personalised response to the form. I suspect to collectors it is Cras’s trio that will be the most immediately compelling. Composed on board a warship in 1926 this is a work of profound imagination written in four movements of unceasing skill. The bold oscillations of the first movement lead onto a more overtly impressionistic second subject, more indeterminate, though sweetly contrasted with the brisk decisive flourish that surrounds it. Everything here is driven by subtle rhythmic and colouristic plasticity of the most rewarding kind. The Lento opens with a colour-glint in the sun, which leads to the introduction of some Eastern European folk elements – Balkan sounding – complete with drones and the violins’ increasingly lyrical strangeness. All this drives the viola to an agitated call to arms – and the movement continues in this aspect of intensity, uncertainty and otherness to its close. Cras introduces violin pizzicati in the third movement, accompanied by an imitative "guitar" – there’s a torrent of verve and vivacity here and developing power as well. The work ends with a folk fugato of headstrong animation; a profusion of energy courses through the movement, plentiful dynamics are observed and the surge of drama sweeps all before it. This is a work you must hear.
Following Cras’s ebullient and masterful Trio Roussel’s may seem a mite reserved but don’t be fooled. This valedictory work, his last completed composition, is a work of real power and concision. Its Allegro Moderato opening movement opens with clarity, linearity but also with melodic serenity and ends in a neo-classicist cadence of summative significance. The heart of the Trio is the Adagio, which spins thematic inter-relatedness with utter precision but no hint of manipulation of material. Instead there is a striving romanticism only partly obscured by the strong chromaticism. One need not listen too hard to hear those lamenting inner voices, or to wonder at the composer’s peaceful affirmation of an ending, one that has been reached through powerful engagement. And so he turns to his finale, a sweetly lyrical march, each instrument almost comically exaggerated in terms of delicacy and articulation, as if Roussel were biding us a satisfied and knowing farewell.
Françaix’s Trio is a four-movement affair of real charm. It opens with a lacy moto perpetuo with individual melodic voices popping up, lots of pizzicati and scurry and wisps of melody – short, sharp, very Françaix. The Scherzo that follows is a boisterous affair with hints of a Mahler Ländler, heavy leaning on beats and a mordantly satiric feel all round but the Andante brings veiled reflection in almost brilliantly strong – and quite deliberate – contrast. He signs off with a rollickingly witty, exaggerated and high spirited Vivo Rondo; back comes the Scherzo naughtiness, there are plenty of heavy suspensions and a retarded, swing effect; unison droning and a scampering rush to the finish and then, when we get there, an insouciant pizzicato throwaway end.
Good, succinct notes and fine, incisive and thoughtful playing from the Offenburg Trio whose recorded debut this was. They prove worthy ambassadors for this wilful, complex and impressive corpus of music.

The recording of this ensembles’s debut disc is bold and informative, if just a little tiring on the ear. The Offenburgers are persuasive advocates of Jean Cras’s Trio, which reflects its composer’s seafaring experiences as a naval officer and on visits to foreign lands. They convey the structure of the first movement with intelligence and assurance and reproduce convincingly the oriental allusions of the Lento, thanks in no small measure to Frank Schilli’s violin contribution. The ternary third movement spotlights violist Rolf Schilli, accompanied by his colleagues in a guitar-like fassion, while the episodic finale opens with an energetic fugato, suggestions of which form a backdrop for a beautifully sustained viola melody. A folk-like episode is also well characterised.
Equally impressive is the sensitivity of the group’s playing, its sympathy with the idiom and excellent understanding in Roussel’s Trio, his last completed composition. Their interpretation of the first movements is intelligent, expressive and beautifully blended, with the melodic material commendably sung. The brief finale is a spirited gigue, somewhat perky and sprightly in this well-articulated, yet enthusiastic account.
The Offenburgers play Jean Françaix’s typically colourful and debonair Trio with Gallic flair and imagination, especially the opening perpetuum mobile and the final rondo, based on the violin’s opening trumpet-call motif. But they are also enviably refined, registering with scrupulous precision and sensitivity every detail of the Scherzo – at times witty, ironic and grotesque. Frank Schilli’s sensuous violin tone helps to conjure up a memorable atmosphere of sadness and mystery in the slow movement.
The Strad