Classical home listening: Quatuor Ébène and the Gesualdo Six

·2 min read

• The nocturnal theme of Round Midnight (Erato), by the Quatuor Ébène, with additional viola (Antoine Tamestit) and cello (Nicolas Altstaedt), makes typically absorbing listening from this established French group. Mixed repertoire has always been one of their strengths. Opening with the modern classic Ainsi la nuit (1973-76) by Henri Dutilleux – a dozen short movements of the utmost delicacy, evoking night – they then progress to Raphaël Merlin’s Night Bridge: a “nocturnal poem for string sextet, after four jazz standards on night-time”.

Merlin, the quartet’s cellist, has created an extended jazz-style bridge, with Moon River, Night and Day, Stella by Starlight and Round Midnight all but obscured in the whispy mists of the sensuous, glittering arrangement. It leads perfectly to the eternal mystery that is Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Op 4 (1899) in the sextet version, here played with febrile and dramatic intensity and lithe, restless precision. If you don’t know this early Schoenberg, try this recording. If you already boast a shelf full of versions, you still need this one too.

• Music written before 1600 remains terra incognita for many listeners, though the names of composers from that period are gradually becoming better known thanks to the skilled ensembles who perform this early repertoire. One such, the young British vocal group the Gesualdo Six, directed by Owain Park, have called their latest album Josquin’s Legacy (Hyperion). The spur is this year’s 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez. One of the most influential European composers of the Renaissance, he spent time in the Italian city of Ferrara, a magnet for composers from France and the Low Countries, and the focus here of the music chosen.

The central work, Josquin’s highly personal Nymphes des Bois/Requiem aeternam, was composed in memory of the Franco-Flemish composer Ockeghem, whose own five-part setting to the Virgin Mary, Intemerata Dei mater, opens the album. Works by Jean Mouton, Adrian Willaert, Heinrich Isaac and others complete this impeccably performed recital. It’s hard to think it could be better sung.

• Lunchtimes this week, chamber music from the Northern Ireland Opera Festival of Voice 2021 featuring the mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, baritone Ben McAteer and soprano Elizabeth Watts, all joined by pianist Simon Lepper. Recorded in August at the First Presbyterian church, Belfast. Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, Tue-Fri, 1pm/BBC Sounds.

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