Thursday, 12 December 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2013)

CHAUSSON Concert / String Quartet
Doric String Quartet
Chandos 10754 / *****

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) would have become a major composer of the late Romantic French school had he not gotten in a bicycle accident that claimed his rather short life. Left unfinished in three movements was his String Quartet in C minor, completed by fellow composer Vincent d’Indy. Both were students of Cesar Franck, who in turn worshipped Wagner, and the music shares the master’s austerity and economy of themes. There is also a Beethovenian intensity that makes the music sound more Germanic than French.

Chausson’s most performed work after the popular Poeme for violin is arguably the Concert for violin, piano and string quartet (1889-91). Note the spelling of the piece, as it was not designated a concerto. Instead the term harks back to the concerts royaux (royal concerts) of the French baroque age, music for various instrumental ensembles as an entertainment. Its four movements play almost like a symphony in 40 minutes (Franck’s Symphony in D minor comes to mind at certain points), with strong thematic cohesion, orchestral effects and gestures. These most satisfying performances come from the cream of young musical Britons, for whom instrumental virtuosity is merely a tool of expression, and which comes as naturally as breathing. Highly recommended.

SCHUBERT String Quintet
SCHOENBERG Verklarte Nacht
JANINE JANSEN, Violin et al
Decca 478 3551 / *****

It is a sign of the times where a performer’s name is set in far larger letters than those of composers. The glamorous young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen will probably sell more records than either Arnold Schoenberg or Franz Schubert, even if she is one artist among six, or that is what the executives of the Decca label think. Thankfully, she is in good company as her fellow musicians violinist Boris Brovtsyn, violists Maxim Rysanov and Amihai Grosz, and cellists Torleif Thedeen and Jens Peter Maintz work extremely well as a unit in this generous chamber disc which plays for over 83 minutes.

Schoenberg’s most popular work Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) is heard in its original string sextet version. Inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem about a couple’s midnight stroll and transcendent love (with the revelation that the baby she is carrying is not his), the music transforms from agitation and trepidation to a blissful calm, which is exactly what the performers convey by capturing the febrile mood so vividly. Schubert’s late Quintet in C major is a surprisingly upbeat work from a dying man, and the players spare no effort in bringing out every ounce of pathos (the rapt slow movement in particular) and congeniality everywhere else. Here is chamber music at its finest and most joyous.

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