Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Concerto in D, for violin, piano and string quartet, op.21 (1889-91) [38:59]
Poème, for violin and piano, op.25 (1896) [15:13]
Bruno Monteiro (violin); João Paolo Santos (piano); Lopes-Graça Quartet
rec. Great Hall, Escola Superior de Música, Lisbon, Portugal, 28-29 June 2010. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 3120 [54:14] 

Some of Portugal's leading chamber musicians team up for this recital of two of Ernest Chausson's most famous works. The Poème op.25 is more commonly heard in the version for violin and orchestra; the chamber version, whilst hardly neglected, ought to be heard more often that it is, because it is a lovely, passionate work, written originally for the great violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Audio quality aside, one of the most impressive chamber accounts on record comes from David Oistrakh with pianist Vladimir Yampolsky, in a 1954 recording reissued last year on AlphaOmega (AOS061002) - coupled, incidentally, with the intriguing chamber version of Sibelius's Violin Concerto.
In fact, there is a sense that an opportunity was missed here: given that Chausson also arranged his Poème for the same forces as the Concerto, why did the Lopes-Graça Quartet not join Monteiro and Santos to record it as such? That might just have given this recording that extra edge in a fairly crowded marketplace. The Chilingirian Quartet realised as much when they teamed up with pianist Pascal Devoyon and violinist Philippe Graffin for Hyperion (CDA67028).
For the Concerto too there is stiff competition, none more so than a crème-de-la-crème line-up of Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Takács Quartet released by Decca half a dozen years ago (E4756709) as part of the Joshua Bell Edition. Within the last six months a new Naxos release is not quite as strong as the present one (see review), but their coupling of the Concerto with Chausson's Piano Trio adds another 20 minutes of music at a considerably lower price than Centaur.
The shortness of this disc does give cause for concern, but performances here are strong enough to warrant consideration. Monteiro is not entirely convincing in the Poème, but flourishes with the added support of the Lopes-Graça Quartet in the Concerto, which is surely one of the biggest and best sextets in the Romantic repertoire: lyrical, intense, dreamy, inventive, reminiscent in spirit of Franck's earlier Piano Quintet, and in the right hands, soaring to the same ecstatic heights. Certainly the performers here seem convinced of its potentialities, expressively twisting and turning as page after page of Chausson's marvellous score takes flight, like beautiful butterflies on a summer zephyr.
Sound quality too, from a technical point of view, is very good. However, there are numerous ugly, catarrhic intakes of breath from Monteiro, particularly audible in the Poème, that could have been avoided with more forethought from Centaur's engineers regarding microphone placement.
The English-only booklet notes are sufficient, although they clearly have not been proofread by a native speaker. The biographies relate, for example, that Monteiro is "one of todays Portuguese violinists with bigger visibility", whilst the Quarteto Lopes-Graça "intends to bestow the [Lisbon National] Conservatory [...] with a reference group in the strings' area". The Concerto was, apparently, "composed throughout two years of Chausson's carrier", its Sicilienne movement "one of the most absent-minded by the composer". Memo to Centaur: hire proof-reader at earliest opportunity.
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Chausson's marvellous score takes flight, like beautiful butterflies on a summer zephyr.