Classical, April 2023

hfnalbum.pngTakács Quartet
String Quartets by Dutilleux, Ravel and Hough
Hyperion CDA68400 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

The Takács lineup has changed little since 1975, and the core of its personality on record has endured at least since its Decca days. Each track here, though, is caught on the wing with the picture-book immediacy of their best concerts and their Bartók cycle. If the Ravel is the most familiar piece, it still opens up a world of wonder thanks to the palpable atmosphere of both playing and engineering. Their Ainsi La Nuit is less brittle and elliptical than most, more sensuous and painterly. Stephen Hough's 2021 quartet makes a fine complement and contrast, taking an oblique look at tonal harmony and counterpoint through six sketches set in a park, a hotel, a church, and so on, with the sharp but affectionate eye of a musical Cézanne. PQ


Gothic Voices
The Splendour Of Florence: Dufay, Ockeghem, et al
Linn CKD700 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Florence in the 1480s was an artistic honeypot like 1700s London and Paris in 1910, its patronage and spirit of innovation irresistible to Franco-Flemish composers who left home and filled its churches and palaces with music to fit the sensuous curves of their architecture. The Gothic Voices formula wraps up chant, motets, chansons and instrumental intabulations in a package containing the close a cappella polyphony of Ockeghem's Alma Redemptoris, together with the madrigalian rise and fall of Dufay's D'ung Aultre Amer, a tiny, exquisite piece of Marian devotion by Tinctoris, and much more in the warm acoustic of a 12th-c English priory. PQ


Clare Hammond
Montgeroult: Études
BIS BIS-2603 (downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit resolution)

Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836) somehow saved her aristocratic head from the revolutionary block by improvising a set of variations on the Marseillaise, among other stratagems. Professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire as early as 1795, she also broke a path for women composers in France. If these studies had evocative titles and/or a famous name attached, they would be repertoire works. Conservative in harmony by the side of Chopin, it's true, but Montgeroult has a Couperin-like sensibility for a telling image. Clare Hammond plays on a modern Steinway but has a fine ear and touch for the Mozart-meets Mendelssohn aesthetic. PQ


Gens, Orch De Lille/Bloch
Poulenc: La Voix Humaine, Sinfonietta
Alpha ALPHA899 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Denise Duval created and defined the anonymous 'Elle' in Poulenc's telephone tragedy; Véronique Gens makes it her own for our time by dialling down the hauteur and desperation, at least to begin with, and leaning into the lyrical strength of Poulenc's lines. Every word of Cocteau's text is audible without recourse to the booklet, and conductor Alexandre Bloch keeps a tight lid on the verismo accompaniment so that we eavesdrop on 'her' and all her frustration and torn-up feelings. As they spiral out of control, Gens opens up the vocal envelope, all the while singing rather than declaiming. Even if you have Duval and Felicity Lott, you'll want to hear Gens. PQ