Skip to main content
Read page text

there is to be found in this offering, with its stylistic echoes of Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Moeran’s then teacher, John Ireland. Completed in 1923, the Violin Sonata builds on the not inconsiderable achievement of the Piano Trio, its progressive writing at times strikingly prescient of major works to come. At the same time, the plangent, darkly oppressive mood of its remarkable central Lento in particular intriguingly calls to mind Arnold Bax’s turbulent output from this same period (I’m thinking of the Second Violin Sonata and Second Piano Sonata) and even Frank Bridge’s craggy contemporaneous Piano Sonata.

In its impressive concision, contrapuntal resourcefulness, tangy harmonic scope and strikingly idiomatic assurance, the Sonata for two violins from 1930 has much in common with the terrific String Trio conceived around the same time (the quicksilver Presto scherzo is an absolute delight). That merely leaves the touching Prelude that Moeran wrote in 1943 for the cellist Peers Coetmore (with whom he had recently fallen in love – and the inspiration for his sublime Cello Concerto and riveting Cello Sonata from 1945 and 1947 respectively).

First-rate sound and balance complement the exemplary music-making. As should by now be clear, this enterprising anthology yields copious rewards and can be welcomed without reservation. Andrew Achenbach

Stravinsky Élégie. Duo concertanta. The Soldier’s Taleb Isabelle Faust vn aAlexander Melnikov pf b Dominique Horwitz narr bLorenzo Coppola cls b Javier Zafra bn bReinhold Friedrich cornets b Jörgen van Rijen tbn bWies de Boevé db b Raymond Curfs perc Harmonia Mundi F HMM99 2671 (73’ • DDD)

Notions of authenticity don’t obviously map themselves on to a piece so inherently adaptable to circumstances, and designed that way as a prototype of what became théâtre pauvre. All the same, there is a grim landmark worth marking since the influenza outbreak of 1918‑19 closed borders and theatres across Europe and prompted Stravinsky and the writer CharlesFerdinand Ramuz to devise an entertainment that could be staged on the fly.

Despite the slick studio-production values, Isabelle Faust and her colleagues do indeed evoke the mise en scène of performers pulling up in a dusty square late one afternoon and performing from the back of an old truck. First, however, Faust gives a tender, plangent account of the solo Élégie composed in 1944 to mark the passing of the Pro Arte Quartet’s leader, Alphonse Onnou. Her feathery bowing of the Duo concertant’s opening then suggests she has paid the closest attention to Samuel Dushkin’s pioneering version on record (with the excellent Alexander Melnikov balanced more sensitively than the composer at the piano).

This Soldier’s Tale is available in three languages, all of them recited by the French actor Dominique Horwitz. Much like the soldier’s fiddle, the English translation by Kitty Black and Michael Flanders has given sturdy service for many years now, at least since the 1954 Glyndebourne ensemble recording conducted by John Pritchard (EMI, 9/56), and Horwitz is the master of it, the rhyme, the slang and the task of differentiating between characters and narration.

The booklet details the historically appropriate nature of the instruments used alongside Faust’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Strad, even down to the restored goatskin-covered drums. The pokysounding bassoon, the ragtime feel of the clarinet and parody-revue character of Reinhold Friedrich’s cornet à pistons are all irresistible in their own right, but the sense of authenticity really arises from the playing: the abrasive resistance to legato for the soldier’s march, for example, or the sly rubato and folksy charm of the Little Concert and dance suite for the princess abed in Part 2. The ending, too, strikes me as ideally oblique and unvarnished in the tradition of Brecht and Weill, leaving us to work out the soldier’s fate for ourselves without devilish cackles or a heavy-handed reveal. For a full, modern, English Soldier’s Tale, Horwitz and Faust and their colleagues go to the top of the pile alongside the Britishmusic-royalty version led by the late Oliver Knussen. Peter Quantrill The Soldier’s Tale – selected comparison: Benjamin, Birtwistle, Knussen (3/17) (LINN) CKD552

‘’Round Midnight’ Dutilleux Ainsi la nuit Merlin Night Bridgea Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht, Op 4a Ébène Quartet with aAntoine Tamestit va a Nicolas Altstaedt vc Erato F 9029 66419-0 (70’ • DDD)

gramophone.co.uk

Fresh from their worldwide tour of Beethoven’s string quartets, the Quatuor

Ébène come up with an ambitious project centred on the literal passing from day into night, then its metaphorical passing back into day; accomplished by bringing three contrasted works into unlikely accord.

The ‘towards night’ phase is embodied by Ainsi la nuit (1976), Dutilleux’s only string quartet, which typifies his maturity in its coalescing of diverse fragments into a cumulative sequence of anticipations, evocations and afterthoughts. The degree of timbral and textural stratification favoured by the Ébène might risk disunity, yet its placing emotional emphasis on the central ‘Litanies’ or transcendent aura of the final ‘Temps suspendu’ confirms an acute concern for the temporal followthrough of this piece in its Proustian formal logic and expressive poise.

The ‘night’ phase has been created by the Ébène’s Raphaël Merlin, whose penchant for the arranging of ‘standards’ reaches a new sophistication in Night Bridge (2021) – a ‘nocturnal poem’ that similarly locates four jazz classics in a fluid context of departures and arrivals. Hence the teasing double-take on Mancini’s ‘Moon River’, acute restiveness found in Porter’s ‘Night and day’, emotional fervour drawn from Young’s ‘Stella by starlight’, then smouldering pathos of Monk’s ‘’Round midnight’ as it passes into the gentle radiance of a lever du jour.

The ‘towards day’ phase is embodied by Verklärte Nacht (1899), and if neither Schoenberg’s sextet nor the Richard Dehmel poem that inspired it admits of such a trajectory, the sense of darkness being confronted then overcome is tangibly relayed in a reading as committed to savouring the smallest detail as to elaborating these on the largest canvas. Such an approach might have resulted in overkill were it not that a powerful striving for fulfilment holds one as enthralled by this piece on its own terms as by its role within the Ébène’s intended scheme.

Comparisons for Dutilleux and Schoenberg are various but not relevant given the singularity of what is being proposed here. With sound of unsparing immediacy and Merlin’s typically provocative notes, this release testifies to the Ébène’s ambition and, moreover, its attainment. Richard Whitehouse

GRAMOPHONE GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2022 7

My Bookmarks


    Skip to main content