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Adolphe BLANC (1828-1885)
String Quintet No.3 in D, Op.21 [18:10]
String Quintet No.4 in E flat, Op.22 [22:23]
String Quintet No.7 in E flat, Op.50 [26:52]
Fabergé Quintet (Rodrigo Reichel, Frauke Kuhlmann, Bettina Lenz (violin), Gerhard Sibbing (viola), Sven Forsberg (cello), Peter Schmidt (double bass))
rec. Rolf Liebermann-Studio, Hamburg, November 2003 and September 2005. DDD
ES-DUR ES2046 [67:41]

Adolphe Blanc, though not exactly a household name, is justifiably hailed in the booklet of this CD as the chief exponent of chamber music in France for the greater part of the nineteenth century. He is very sparsely represented in the catalogue, with only one other recording entirely devoted to him, and that is out of stock at the UK suppliers as I write (a Clarinet Septet, Clarinet Trio and Wind Quintet performed by Les Vents de Montréal, on Atma ACD22224: ArkivMusic do have it). Subscribers to the invaluable Naxos Music Library can test drive the Atma recording there and purchase it as an mp3 download from classicsonline.com. It’s also available in mp3 and lossless sound from eclassical.com – the price in US dollars from the latter is very slightly less expensive at current exchange rates. Neither download comes with a booklet – a regular shortcoming, I fear.
 
The scores of some of Blanc’s chamber works, including some of those on the Atma recording, are available online but none of these quintets are included.
 
In these three quintets Blanc eschews the Mozartian string quartet + viola model – employed for three of his other quintets – in favour of string quartet + double bass, a format adopted by his predecessor George Onslow originally as an expedient when a second cellist failed to turn up for a string quartet + cello quintet, and later from choice. Any fears that the deepest of the string instruments would swamp the others are dispelled here – if anything, the predominant tone is light in texture throughout.
 
‘Light’ is the keyword throughout this album. There’s nothing deep and philosophical in what is essentially salon music, though it’s salon music of the best kind, well-crafted, tuneful and entertaining, and ideal for soothing the troubled brow after a bad-hair day as an alternative to, say, the Schubert Octet. It is, as the very helpful multi-lingual notes in the booklet point out, Viennese chamber music that forms Blanc’s model, especially in the four-movement Quintets, Nos. 4 and 7.
 
The performers, all members of the NDR Symphony Orchestra, enter into the spirit of the music. Their collective name is appropriate for music which has all the surface glitter of a Fabergé creation, though they don’t play with quite the panache of the Vienna Octet and Boskovsky Ensemble in similarly light-toned music on two recent budget-price Alto reissues which I greatly enjoyed. (Schubert Octet and Viennese Dance Music, ALC1227 – review – and Dances of Old Vienna, ALC1237: Recording of the Month – review). Without any other recording I have no benchmark for comparison but I enjoyed listening to the CD and will doubtless return to it, though not as often as to those two Alto reissues.
 
The recording is light in tone, as befits the mood of the music and performances, though I wonder whether the double-bass actually sounded as well integrated with the other instruments.
 
Not only was Blanc’s music new to me, this was one of my first encounters with the German Es-Dur label and not all suppliers seem to stock it. The disc is housed in a cardboard gatefold sleeve, with the booklet fitted in a pocket. It’s a practical arrangement, except that I often find such sleeves hard to slot into the compartments of a CD drawer.
 
Brian Wilson