The Schubert Ensemble performs Piano Quartets by Chausson and Saint-Saëns

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COMPOSERS: Chanson,Saint-Saens
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Chausson * Saint-Saens
WORKS: Chausson: Piano Quartet, Op. 30; Saint-Saëns: Piano Quartet, Op. 41
PERFORMER: Schubert Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10914

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The first notes tell you that you are listening to a class act: the Schubert Ensemble have had only a few changes in the line-up in over 30 years, and there’s complete unanimity of intent. Intonation is precise, rubato absolutely co-ordinated, vibrato carefully graded, and the texture immaculately balanced, the result of both works having been in the Ensemble’s repertoire for a long time.

Though Saint-Saëns’s Quartet has no real slow movement, there’s plenty of variety, given full rein in this performance. The first movement’s main theme has a delicious lift in the phrasing, and the strings’ chorale-like melody in the Andante is played in perfect counterpoint to the vehemence of the piano part. In the scherzo, the gradual acceleration has a natural pace, punctuated by two eloquently shaped cadenzas, and the finale, where themes from the other movements return, is sonorous and serious.

The more Romantic, chromatic writing in the Chausson brings a different sound from the players, with deeper vibrato, and use of portamento to articulate phrasing in the long-limbed melodies. These are especially in evidence in the flowing slow movement, where Chausson avoids reaching definite cadences, giving a feeling of endless yearning. There’s a hint of Debussy, rhythmically and harmonically, in the brief scherzo before the long finale, which does outstay its welcome as it revisits themes from earlier movements. That’s Chausson’s fault, not that of the ensemble. And this is otherwise a very attractive CD.

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Martin Cotton