Schubert Ensemble of London

César Franck: Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor; Sonata for Violin and Piano in A

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The Schubert Ensemble of London, a noteworthy group who, at its core, is a piano quartet with the addition of a double bass player, has been promoting standard repertoire and modern chamber music for more than a quarter century. This Champs Hill Records disc substitutes bassist Peter Buckoke for a second violinist, Jan Peter Schmolck, for a performance of César Franck's F minor Piano Quintet. Written during a time of intense infatuation with one of his students, the quintet is an especially emotional, demonstrative example of Franck's mature style. The Schubert Ensemble's performance here is befitting the subject matter and marked with intensity, passion, captivating dynamics, and meticulous ensemble work. Sound quality here is also generally good, though a bit muddy at some climaxes. Next on the program is the well-known Violin Sonata in A major; this performance does not fare as well as the quintet. Violinist Simon Blendis' intonation is problematic at best and much of his interpretation is overwrought and indulgent. Tempos are also on the slow side, bordering on ponderous in the two outer movements. Most troubling, however, is the overall sound quality. The piano is inarticulate and garbled, and the violin seems distant and underpowered. Listeners will certainly enjoy the performance of the quintet, but can certainly do better elsewhere for a superior recording of the sonata.

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