TCHAIKOVSKY Souvenir de Florence; SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht
I had more than a few misgivings about the recent version of Souvenir de Florence from Sarah Nemtanu and friends. This latest entrant, which finds the Emerson Quartet teaming up with viola player Paul Neubauer and cellist Colin Carr, is an entirely different prospect, a performance of such rapt songfulness, dazzling poise and tumbling fantasy that Tchaikovsky’s inspiration sounds as fresh as the day it was conceived. It’s not merely that these dedicated newcomers surmount every technical hurdle with almost nonchalant ease but they are also acutely appreciative of the work’s every facet, be it the rhythmic élan of the finale, the glowing lyricism and spooky mystery of the slow movement or the unfettered joy of the third movement’s Trio section (which bounds along with the utmost glee). They locate, too, an unexpected muscle, grit and purpose in the opening Allegro con spirito that is almost symphonic in its reach.
In short, I’ve seldom encountered a more convinced – or convincing – realisation of this endearing music, and these eloquent artists prove no less attuned to the very different world of Verklärte Nacht (composed at the end of the same decade). Again, it’s not just the purity of intonation, immaculate blend and remarkable luminosity of texture which impress, rather the total unanimity of vision and lack of indulgence on show, resulting in a performance of an enviable focus, concentration and clarity of expression that compellingly conveys both the narrative and profoundly organic thread of Schoenberg’s youthful masterpiece. By its side, the rendering by Janine Jansen and distinguished colleagues sounds rather too self-aware and mannered for comfort. Perceptive, consummate music-making, then, beautifully recorded. A very strong recommendation.