The Debussy Ensemble is made up of flutist Susan Milan, violist Matthew Jones, and harpist Leuan Jones. Milan is a former principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; all of these artists teach at the Royal College of Music in London.
Composer Arnold Bax was born in England, but after reading a good bit of Irish literature he became fascinated with the Emerald Isle and its wild, windswept coast. Making frequent visits, he drew inspiration from its landscape and from the culture of its hardy people. He wrote the Elegiac Trio in memory of friends who died in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Uprising, mounted by Irish republicans who had hoped to end British rule in Ireland while the Empire was fighting World War I. The hauntingly sad themes of this work combine his memories of Ireland with lush French Impressionistic harmonies. The members of the Debussy Ensemble balance the timbres of their instruments beautifully in their intense rendition of this colorful piece.
Claude Debussy wrote his Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp in 1915, when France was totally embroiled in World War I. Although he was already ill with a fatal cancer, he wrote to Igor Stravinsky, “New beauty should fill the air when the cannons fall silent.” He tried to make it so with this highly evocative sonata, the pastoral first movement of which exudes a calm, bucolic atmosphere. The ensemble that named itself after this composer has done very well by him in this instance. The catchy second movement and the propulsive third surround us with shimmering combinations of tone and timbre.
Ravel’s Sonatine as heard here is a transcription by harpist Carlos Salzedo, with Ravel’s approval, of his well-known piano Sonatine. Although it is a rather difficult piece to play, the Debussy Ensemble handles it with great delicacy. They play its wild arpeggios and tempi changes with deceptive ease.
William Mathias wrote his Zodiac Trio in 1976. A very individualistic composer, he dedicated the piece to the musicians who premiered it by titling the movements with their respective zodiac signs. The scintillating first movement is “Pisces,” the second a resplendent “Taurus,” and the last is a sonorous “Aries.” Here, the ensemble plays with something of a bite, for at this point in the program a change of pace is in order. Impressionist pieces tend to blend into each other if some variations are not made.
Theodore Dubois won the Prix de Rome in 1861 and some years later he succeeded Camille Saint-Saens as organist at the Church of the Madeleine. He also taught at the Paris Conservatory,
where one of his pupils was Paul Dukas. He wrote a great deal of music that should be heard more often. In 1904, he composed this disc’s title work, the Terzettino. An enthralling, romantic work, it provides a luminous finale for this exquisite compact disc.
The Debussy Ensemble plays each piece with voluptuous dynamics and expressive phrasing. The players converse with each other on an equal basis, the viola providing opulent low tones and the flute exquisite highs. The sound is warm and well balanced. I would choose this disc for background music at a sophisticated gathering.