Schubert and Ravel CD reviews

NEW CDS OF SCHUBERT AND RAVEL REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE


SCHUBERT: Thymos Quartet / Eschenbach ★★★★

The Trout Quintet is probably on everyone's list of favourite chamber works and is guaranteed to evoke smiles from all but the most misanthropic musical curmudgeon. Composed when Schubert was just 22-years-old it combines tunefulness, wit and effortless charm – all captured is this delightful new performance. It celebrated Christoph Eschenbach's eightieth birthday and the veteran pianist / conductor – sometimes mannered in both roles – gives us a beautifully relaxed autumnal performance ably supported by bassist Yann Dubost and members of the Thymos Quartet. It's a broad one, including the first movement repeat, with tempi slower than the effervescent Curzon / Vienna Octet Players classic 1957 account. Eschenbach's pellucid playing, and the string players loving support, supply a sparky scherzo, scintillating variations and lively finale. The fillers – a selection of Waltzes, arranged for string quartet, and Ländler, with Jean-Frederic Neuberger (piano) – are very pleasant but make for an ungenerous 54 minute disc.

Norman Stinchcombe


RAVEL Le Langage des Fleurs: Ann Martin-Davis ★★★

This album of Ravel's solo piano music will sharply divide listeners' opinions. In her YouTube promotional video Martin-Davis says that she aimed for performances both more intimate and "dream-like" than usual. Considered solely on those terms the disc is successful. There is, however, the caveat that the soloist's agenda ignores important facets of Ravel's music. She uses a beautifully smooth and delicate sounding French-tuned Steinway and in Le Tombeau de Couperin achieves some seductively silky sounds. The Pavane pour une Infante défunte is exquisite, and avoids the traps of being arch or po-faced. Doubts arise in a very cool reading of Valses Nobles et Sentimentales where Ravel's "Moins vif" (less lively) sounds not lively at all. The Sonatine is lethargic – a dreamy approach isn't called for here surely – and the concluding Animè drained of energy. Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Decca) can be dreamy (when required) but energetic, warm and vital as well.

Norman Stinchcombe

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