These recordings first appeared in 2005 on the now defunct
ASV label (Gold GLD 4019) - it is from that disc, in their absence
on this one, that recording dates are taken. At the time of
the original ASV release, Champs Hill had not yet morphed into
a label in its own right.
Composer Charles Tournemire once famously described César Franck's
most German of Belgian works as "king of the piano quintets".
Although a significant number of competitors have been added
to the repertoire since, it remains a fact that Tournemire's
ability to recognise Franck's particular kind of genius
was significantly greater than Debussy's. Critics and
audiences have said just as good things of the Violin Sonata
in A that the passage of time is unlikely ever to gainsay -
all of which makes for a superb CD coupling for newcomers to
Franck or to late-Romantic chamber music in general.
There are countless recordings of both works, especially the
Sonata, already available, but for the inured too there is much
here to commend itself in the Schubert Ensemble's recital.
True, these are performances that are loyal to Franck's
scores in an unflashy way that some may consider 'academic'.
But Franck himself may well have been among those preferring
the Schuberts' interpretations above others deemed more
'poetic', but which say more perhaps about the
performers than the composer.
In the Quintet, there is recent competition from the Fine Arts
Quartet with Cristina Ortiz on Naxos (8.572009) and the Petersen
Quartet with Artur Pizarro on Phoenix (PE142), for example.
The Schuberts immerse themselves in the dark, lush passion of
the work - bizarrely described in one contemporary review of
the ASV disc as "sinister" - with a rhythmic perception
and verve that nicely round out their general faithfulness to
As for the Sonata, on top of countless older recordings of reasonable
vintage or better, there have been a fair few new ones that
have met with critical acclaim: Ray Chen with Noreen Polera
on Sony (88697723202), Jennifer Pike with Martin Roscoe on Chandos
(CHAN10667), cellist Anne Gastinel with Claire Désert on Naive
(5259), Joshua Bell with Jeremy Denk also on Sony (88697891822),
Vadim Repin with Nikolai Lugansky on DG (4778794), Catherine
Manoukian with Xiayin Wang on Marquis (81385) - and those are
just the ones that have appeared since this Champs Hill disc
For all-round, no-nonsense quality there is no good reason not
to favour Howard and Blendis, particularly over any where the
coupling is not Franck's Quintet. In both works the Schubert
Ensemble are a match in finesse and accuracy for any of the
above. Moreover, audio grade here, whilst not quite ideal -
there is too much reverberation in the Sonata, for example -
is nonetheless pretty good. This is more than can be said for
many established "classic" recordings of these works,
such as, for the Quintet, Victor Aller with the Hollywood Quartet
on Testament (SBT 1077) or Clifford Curzon's 1960 live
recording with the Amadeus Quartet (available on BBC Legends,
BBCL 40612 and elsewhere).
Booklet notes by Ates Orga are couched in slightly ungainly
prose, and for a while slip into technical waffle, but offer
plenty of background detail to the works. There are a few typos
- "Augène Ysäye" and "cynically" instead
of "cyclically", for example! - that still (May 2012)
remain uncorrected on the Champs Hill website. The cover booklet
shows a section of the Eiffel Tower, which is considerably more
French than Franck - denied admission to the Paris Conservatoire
because he was not French enough! - or, as these works demonstrate,
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk