Faure Songs and Chamber Music, SON 11203

Harriet Smith, Jan 2013, Gramophone

The unorthodox line-up of the London Bridge Ensemble means that it can create enterprising programmes with ease, though for this disc it does call upon the services of violinist Matthew Truscott and bass player Graham Mitchell too. La bonne chanson is the earliest piece here, sung with great warmth by baritone Ivan Ludlow, particularly the last song, with its intertwining imagery of the burgeoning of love and spring. Turn to Anne Sofie von Otter here and you find a rather more ethereal approach (which isn't simply down to voice type). She also offers a more flitting, reactive reading of 'N'est-ce pas?.’ In 'La lune blanche' Ludlow is mellifluous and confiding; but von Otter's greater fragility and the way she embraces the language itself is more magical still.
Fauré’s Piano Trio dates from the year before he died. Trio George Sand made a very strong case for it recently, particularly in their duetting between violin and cello in the second movement- a real test of tonal beauty, also wonderfully conveyed in the Poltéra /Mitchell/Stott reading. This new set treads a middle ground, not as emotionally fraught as some but always warm, letting Faure's exquisite lines speak for themselves. The extraordinary finale, which, with its jagged contours and darting phrases, forms such an unexpected riposte to what has gone before, demands virtuosity, synchronicity and edginess without violence. Trio George Sand are gentler than some, while the Capuçons are surprisingly laid back here. The London Bridge Ensemble aren't afraid to tell it like it is, something they have in common with the Florestan.
The disc opens with another extraordinary late masterpiece: the Second Quintet. Here the new version has strong competition from the Quatuor Ebène with Angelich, thankfully one of the more successful sonic experiences in Virgin's set. It's a work the Ebène relish, combining a breakneck speed in the second movement with an almost merciless clarity, something the new group cannot quite match. But in the slow movement - the work's beating heart - the tables are turned. It always makes me think of late Beethoven quartets, not least because that opening upward sixth echoes so powerfully that of the 'Heiliger Dankgesang' in Op 132, and the LBE fully reveal its otherworldliness, its apparent suspension of time, in playing that is as compelling as it is rapt.