Chamber music from turn of the 19th century gets glowing interpretations on three recent CDs
I'm now limited to a single classical CD review per week in the Star, which is making for a bulging pile of great candidates.
Today's paper has a review for a new disc by the Tippett Quartet, but there are three more chamber-music albums that have impressed me in recent weeks. For details, click on the artist names, below. All deserve ***1/2 (out of 4):
EYBLER QUARTET & JANE BOOTH
Backofen & Mozart: Theme & Variations (Analekta)
Clarinettist Jane Booth and Toronto's Eybler Quartet, one of the few such ensembles in the world to work on period instruments (violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman, as well as violist Patrick Jordan belong to the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and cellist Margaret Gay is a frequent guest), bring an affecting elegance to this album that features two quintets by Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen (1768-1839) -- one for basset horn and strings, the other for clarinet and strings (where Max Mendel sits in as extra violist) -- and Mozart's A-Major Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581. Booth's seamless, silken woodwind solos glide over the strings with uncommon grace. The combined effect on is an almost supernatural translucence. This is music of the ether, not the earth.
AMES PIANO QUARTET
Mozart, Hummel & Beethoven Quartets (Dorian)
The veteran Ames Piano Quartet is earthy, not etherial, but no less satisfying in its vigorous interpretations of three quartets: E-flat Major, K. 452, by Mozart, G-Major by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and E-flar Major, Op. 16, by his contemporary, Beethoven. All three pieces are pretty, but Beethoven's is the most compelling.
Beethoven String Quartets Op. 18 No. 1 & Op. 127 (Virgin)
In its 20-year-history, Germany's Artemis Quartet has built a reputation for solid, spirited musicmaking that's gorgeously laid out in two quartets from opposite ends of Beethoven's life. They play the first one, in F Major, as if it were a big, serious, late work. They play the other, in E-flat Major, with an underlying lyricism. The juxtaposition makes these pieces -- both unconventional in their day, yet written nearly three decades apart -- sound more alike than I expected. This is a disc to listen to again and again.