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Amours, Toujours!
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Salut d'amour Op.12 (1888) [3:09]
Sergeï PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Roméo et Juliette (1935) [11:19]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebesträume S541 No.3 (1850) [5:46]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No.1 Op.23 (1831-35) [10:54]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
West Side Story (1957) [9:13]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse macabre Op.40 (1874) [7:40]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Liebesfreud (pub. 1905) [3:09]
Liebesleid (pub. 1905) [4:03]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Ritual fire dance (1915-16) [4:17]
Arrangements by Nicolas Worms and Fabien Touchard
Smoking Joséphine
rec. 2019, Cité de la musique, Soissons, France
NAÏVE V5469 [60:29]

Smoking Josephine: “…we find it very sensual; it evokes a sort of fantasized femininity, with an air of mystery”. This is violinist Geneviève Laurenceau on what the name of their ensemble represents. The booklet, in French and English, is all about the group: an interview with the group as a whole, questions/answers with each of the members and biographies. All the musicians have wide-ranging interests and careers; Laurenceau is the artistic director of the Obernai Music festival which she founded, and has played as a soloist and member of many European orchestras, latterly performing as leader and soloist with the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra. Olivia Hughes is a founding member of the Ardeo quartet and, in addition to her solo work is with the Orchestre de Chamber de Paris. She is the Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Festival at Entrecasteaux. Marie Chilemme studied with Tabea Zimmermann, founded the Quatour Cavatine and now plays with the Ébène Quartet. Laurène Durantel Helstroffer was solo double bass with the Orchestre national de Capitole de Toulouse, appears with the Ébène and Modigliani Quartets and is a member of Ensemble Variances and Ensemble 360. Hermine Horiot is a member of the conductorless orchestra “les Dissonances” and has recorded an album of contemporary music by Nordic and Baltic composers; indeed, with at least sixteen albums between them they are no strangers to recording.

The actual music on the disc is mentioned only in very general terms; these works embody the theme of the recital, love - and it is love in all its aspects: passionate, morbid, knightly and physical are just a few of Laurenceau's examples. Admittedly, none of the music needs much in the way of introduction for the average classical listener, so a lack of exhaustive notes is understandable, but mention might have been made about the arrangers Nicolas Worms and Fabien Touchard and how the ensemble and arrangers approached the musical choices and arrangements. Laurenceau says they had a “close collaboration with our immensely talented arrangers” but that is the extent of the discussion.

In the main, these are orchestral or chamber works to begin with and I am impressed by the arrangements which make full use of the timbres and qualities of the individual instruments. In Liszt's familiar Liebesträume, his song O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst, mostly heard in Liszt's own piano transcription, the cadenzas are changed from wholly idiomatic piano flourishes to equally idiomatic string flourishes. The two suites, Prokofiev's Roméo et Juliette and Bernstein's West Side Story are well constructed, exciting and touching by turns, with plenty of raw grittiness and warm lyricism (and with the quintet providing the obligatory Mambo! and finger clicks in the latter). The Kreisler items are a joy, full of imaginative interplay. The piece that I was most surprised to see included was the G minor Ballade by Chopin, a work that I could not really conceive in any other form, so perfectly is it written for the piano. I'm also not quite sure how it fits into the disc's theme of love; the Ballades were inspired by the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz in general and, in the case of this Ballade, quite possibly his poem Konrad Wallenrod in particular (patriotic love?). However, I will make no complaint on either account. Every pianist after Chopin has formed their own picture of what this piece means to them and we can do no more than allow Smoking Joséphine the same privilege. As to the arrangement, Nicolas Worms has re-conceived the piece well and for the most part it is very successful.  The opening page transfers very well to this medium and is an auspicious start; there are only occasional moments which I felt sat uncomfortably in their new clothes. The appassionato before the Presto con fuoco is glorious but the Presto itself sounds too solid for me (though a friend who didn't know the original was mightily impressed). The aspect that I miss the most is the sense of struggle, of passions too big to contain that are such an integral part of the original. I don't find this to be any fault of the players who play all the pieces on the disc to the hilt and respond with clear enthusiasm, virtuosity and musicianship; any concerns that I had prior to listening that this would be an album of lightweight or crossover style arrangements for mass appeal were quickly dispelled by the quality of the playing on offer and the integrity of the arrangements. Cellist Hermine Horiot describes the quintet coming together as being a “powerful, pleasurable cocktail” and this is evident in the playing here. I am curious to see what they come up with next.

Rob Challinor
Geneviève Laurenceau (violin), Olivia Hughes (violin)
Marie Chilemme (viola), Hermine Horiot (cello)
Laurène Durantel Helstroffer (double bass)

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