Chamber Music by Ravel, De Falla & Vaughan Williams
‘Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble’: what on earth were they thinking? Your first assumption is that it’s some sort of wordplay, but no, read the booklet: apparently they genuinely have named themselves after the psychological trauma suffered by hostages. Incomprehensible. They’re a bit more forthcoming on the theme of this CD: a programme of Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Falla inspired by the fact that all three composers were active in Paris prior to the First World War.
It’s a promising idea, and you can almost forgive the booklet-note’s bizarre reference to Vaughan Williams’s ‘mild scores full of old folk tunes’. His early C minor Piano Quintet isn’t exactly over-recorded, and if this performance lacks the overall focus of the Schubert Ensemble on Chandos, there’s plenty to enjoy here. These players generate a real sense of inwardness in the little pools of tranquillity that punctuate Vaughan Williams’s big, Brahmsian climaxes, and throughout there’s a feeling of musicians listening and responding, enjoying each other’s company. Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, in an elegant piano sextet arrangement by Marijn van Prooijen, also comes off nicely: savour the little kick-and-a-bounce with which they launch the Forlane and the crispness of the Rigaudon.
Sadly the recording doesn’t serve them well. String chamber works with piano are notoriously difficult to balance and the miking here seems to lurch about from piano to strings. Overall it’s boomy, favouring the bass – not entirely a bad thing with a bass player as expressive as Rick Stotijn – but it gives a sometimes hectoring edge to Simon Crawford-Phillips’s piano; an asset in the machine-music of Ravel’s extraordinary Frontispice [sic], disruptive elsewhere. An unignorable problem on an otherwise attractive disc – that and the group’s name, of course. If the Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble are reading this: please, change it. It does you no favours.