Gems from the Belgian Treasure Trove - Piano Trios by Rasse, Ryelandt and Vreuls


A common denominator to the three piano trios on this Phaedra Classics album is each composer's passionate commitment to the principles of the Romantic era. The composers represented, François Rasse (1873-1955), Joseph Ryelandt (1870-1965) and Victor Vreuls (1876-1944) were all born in Belgium and were active in the early decades of the twentieth century. Like many other composers from this time whose names are little known today, their work does not reflect the upheavals Western music underwent during their lifetimes, but instead, a clear desire "to create true beauty" (Joseph Ryelandt). The album is titled Gems from the Belgian Treasure Trove, and the three works are beautifully performed by I Giocatori Piano Trio. From what I can see, these are first recordings, and are all important additions to the recorded catalog of early 20th century chamber music.

Each composer was the product of a Belgian music education, and found their own ways to prominent teaching positions in Brussels. Each was also quite prolific, but none, with the marginal exception of Joseph Ryelandt, found any lasting reputation outside Belgium. Not surprisingly, all of this music shows a strong French influence. While the music of each possesses a character of its own, there is also a sameness to it. The shaping forces of harmony, melody, form and rhythm are often vague, lending the music a rather rhapsodic quality. At times, it seems to drift, as though for a period the rudder had been hoisted all together and the music pleasantly takes itself where it will.

The trios by Rasse and Vreuls are youthful compositions, written when the composers were in their 20's. The third movement Interlude et final from Rasse's Trio, Op. 16 (a work dedicated to Rasse's teacher, Eugene Ysaye) is the album sample available in the right sidebar. It strikes me as the most successful movement of the work, and is also a good representation of what you might expect in terms of style and tonality across all three works. Written when the composer was in his mid-forties, Joseph Ryelandt's trio is a more mature composition; it is also the most recently written, but as might not be expected, is the most conservatively Romantic sounding of the three.

The fact that these pieces did not find an accepted place with 20th-century performers and audiences cannot so much be a reflection on the quality of the music as it is the obvious result of them having barely ever been heard at all. Listeners eager to explore the more obscure veins of music by composers who strove to create "true beauty" at a time when this desire was little appreciated will find much to enjoy here, and in the music of so many other composers of this time who are featured on Expedition Audio.

Hear more of Ryelandt's attractive music, his Piano Quintet in A minor (not from this album)