The night theme of Midnight Round (Erato), by the Ebony foursome, with in addition a viola (Antoine Tamestit) and a cello (Nicolas Altstaedt), makes the listening typically captivating of this established French group. The mixed repertoire has always been one of their strengths. Opening with the modern classic So at night (1973-76) by Henri Dutilleux – a dozen short movements of extreme delicacy, evoking the night – they then move on to that of RaphaÃ«l Merlin Night bridge: a “nocturnal poem for string sextet, after four night jazz standards”.
Merlin, the quartet’s cellist, created an extended jazz-style bridge, with Moon River, Night and Day, Starlight’s Stella, and Round Midnight almost obscured in the hazy mists of the sultry, scintillating arrangement. It leads perfectly to the eternal mystery that is the VerklÃ¤rte Nacht, Op 4 (1899) in the sextet version, played here with feverish and dramatic intensity and supple and restless precision. If you don’t know this first Schoenberg, try this recording. If you already have a shelf full of versions, you still need this one too.
Music written before 1600 remains a terra incognita for many listeners, although the names of the composers of this period are gradually becoming better known thanks to the qualified ensembles who perform this first repertoire. One of them, the young British vocal group the Gesualdo Six, directed by Owain Park, titled their latest album Josquin’s legacy (Hyperion). The spur marks this year the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez. One of the most influential European Renaissance composers, he spent time in the Italian city of Ferrara, a magnet for composers from France and the Netherlands, and the home here for select music.
The central, very personal piece Nymphes des Bois / Requiem aeternam by Josquin, was composed in memory of the Franco-Flemish composer Ockeghem, whose own setting in five parts of the Virgin Mary, Intemerata Dei mater, opens the album. Works by Jean Mouton, Adrian Willaert, Heinrich Isaac and others complete this impeccably performed recital. It’s hard to think it could be better sung.