Britten: Temporal Variations; Six Metamorphoses after Ovid; Phantasy Quartet; Two Insect Pieces; Cello Suite No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Ambroisie
WORKS: Temporal Variations; Six Metamorphoses after Ovid; Phantasy Quartet; Two Insect Pieces; Cello Suite No. 1
PERFORMER: Éric Speller (oboe), Stéphanie-Marie Degand (violin), Agathe Blondel (viola) Ophélie Gaillard (cello), Olivier Peyrebrune (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AMB 9909
Launched in 1999, the Parisian record label Ambroisie claims it ‘aims to use the sensual pleasure of sound to bring alive the desire for eternity, the traces of ambrosia, that we all carry inside us’. While notions of eliciting the elixir of life seem far-fetched, these performers give fresh insight into some of Britten’s most characterful chamber music. And, in the current climate of recording giants and a few favoured performers monopolising the market, Ambroisie’s commitment to young French musicians is welcome.

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The CD’s two frontliners, oboist Éric Speller and cellist Ophélie Gaillard, prove their earlier conservatoire prize-winning status. Speller adopts a vibrant, gritty tone to enhance the caustic humour permeating Britten’s March, Waltz and Polka in the Temporal Variations yet, as in the plaintive, single-note cries heard in the Chorale, he’s not afraid to reveal a vulnerable side. A natural at characterisation, he creates for Six Metamorphoses after Ovid a sensuous, excitable Pan, a lamenting Niobe and swaggering Bacchus. Stéphanie-Marie Degand and Agathe Blondel join them for a penetrating, suitably unsentimental reading of the early Phantasy Quartet.

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Gaillard’s maturely visceral interpretation of the Suite No. 1 for solo cello reaches appropriate depths of emotion, but never loses sight of a determined spirit. It’s not Rostropovich, but it’s certainly memorable. Kate Sherriff