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Five COLLABORATIVE Stars! With her latest Decca recording, Dutch violin virtuoso Janine Jansen enlists the aid of five of her talented friends, who are stars and established artists in their own right, to play what she calls "two of the most beautiful pieces of chamber music ever written". And indeed, they are! This album is released during the occasion of their live performances during the 10th anniversary of Janine's International Chamber Music Festival Utrecht: Arnold Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht, Opus 4 and Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C major, D956. Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) is a five part, single movement piece for string sextet based on the eponymous poem by Richard Dehmel (in which love wins in the end on a cold revelatory moonlit night) and it receives a sensational, highly emotional performance by Jansen and Boris Brovtsyn on violin, Amihai Grosz and Maxim Rysanov on viola, and Torleif Thedeen and Jens-Peter Maintz on cello, especially musical stanza II, Breiter (bar 200) giving musical life to an amazing transforming poem. The Schubert String Quintet is not based on a poem but Jansen offers a fragment which is fitting in mood: "Schubertiana" by Nobel Prize-winner Tomas Tranströmer. The quintet performance, minus Maxim Rysanov's viola, is also splendidly realized, especially the amazing 19 minute Allegro ma non troppo movement, the serene beauty of the audacious Adagio movement, and energetic, stately Allegretto movement. This is a brilliantly performed coupling of Schubert and Schoenberg by a great ensemble and it gets My Highest Recommendation. 5 INSPIRED Stars! (9 tracks; Time 83:10)
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on 5 May 2013
The fact that this is marketed as a Janine Jansen album might seem both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand we have here a performance featuring one of the world's finest violinists, whilst on the other we're conscious that this is a collection of top-flight soloists in the main, rather than a full-time dedicated chamber unit. You might regard the album cover and speculate as to whether the works will cohere convincingly as ensemble pieces...

Verklärte Nacht was written on the tail-end of the nineteenth century, and was Arnold Schoenberg's first important work. From the beginning it caused controversy. Inspired by Wagner's ventures into the territories of harmonic dissolution, it was rejected by the Vienna Music Society for containing a 'non-existent' chord; an inverted ninth, which up until then was uncategorised (and therefore couldn't exist). In contrast to Schoenberg's later output it's lyrical and tonally stable, though exquisitely chromatic.

The colours which the string players find here graphically reflect the moonlit walk of the lovers in the poem; one can almost visualise the silvery lightness of the moon above, while at their feet all is shadowy darkness. Beneath the surface, a febrile energy intensifies the mood of this programmatic music, which speaks of a couple's acceptance of a pregnancy conceived outside of their relationship.

Schubert's great String Quintet was finished only two months before the composer's death in 1828, but had to wait until 1853 to find a publisher. Though today it's recognised as one of the great chamber ensemble works, this didn't seem to be the case at Schubert's death, when he was regarded more highly for his songs. The instrumentation was unusual for having doubled cellos, rather than two violas as had more normally been the case in a quintet set-up.

In this recording the interplay appears to be almost telepathic, the dynamic shading changing with a quicksilver rapidity. Every note seems charged with a sparking electrical current, and at first hearing the resulting volatility can be quite disconcerting; it's often edge-of-the-seat stuff. The suspense which the players generate in the Adagio is spine-tingling, so finely nuanced is the phrasing in the build to the climaxes. Perhaps surprisingly, it's the viola which really comes to the fore here, evolving and advancing a layer which is all too rarely heard.

The synthesis which Jansen and her friends achieve in these performances gradually melt away any possible resistance which one might have had to this as being simply a marketing ploy on the part of the record company, rather than a recording of intrinsic musical value. As it happens, Jansen is very much a committed chamber player, and this disc marks the tenth anniversary of her International Chamber Music Festival in Utrecht.

This is an album which rewards repeated listening, but that really shouldn't present a problem. In fact, I defy you not to put the CD right back to the beginning after you've heard it for the first time.
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on 13 February 2013
I bought this cd whilst on holiday in Salzburg recently - February being the only month with no concerts in this most cultured of cities - so I bought a few CDs to compensate! (My experience of going abroad is that mainland Europe seems to get new releases a couple of months before they are released in the UK).

This is the cd I keep returning too. The playing is, to say the least, blistering, tender and daring in equal measures.

Verklarte Nacht is dramatic without going OTT. (It's amazing how often chamber groups want to sound like the Berlin Philharmonic with added adrenaline!). Although Schoenberg's demanding string writing is made light of there is no sense of this this being a showcase for virtuoso playing. Each strand is given equal weight as necessary and this amazing score is shown as still having the power to shock. Will this recording make you hear things you've not noticed before? Oh yes!

The Schubert is given a wonderful and, for me, involving performance. There have been so many recordings of this beloved work that it would be unrealistic of me to start making comparisons, suffice to say, that this belongs amongst the very best of them.

Some may find the extreme dynamics and slow (but concentrated) tempi in the sublime 2nd movement to be off putting (especially in a recording context) but, for me this is a real performance that grips you by the hair and will not let go!

The recording is superb and shows these amazing musicians to their best advantage and the booklet shows admirable restraint with photos of Ms. Jansen! The cd itself plays for an astonishing 83 minutes and 12 seconds so no complaints of short measure.

Thoroughly recommended!
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on 24 May 2013
The Schubert Cello 5o is my favourite chamber work. Janine Jansen and Friends play as one, and invest the piece with exquisite emotion and nuances. The sonorous tonal blend of the lower four parts in the divine slow movement is embellished by beautifully understated violin 1 interjections/responses. The surrounding 3 movements are full of life and vigour.
The Schoenberg is a beautiful work, and a highly successful, although some may say surprising, coupling with the Schubert. It is in essence, though, a late Romantic string work, and again it is superbly performed.
This is a recording to treasure.
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on 20 May 2016
I bought this based on the many glowing reviews on Amazon and because I have nothing by her in my collection. To be frank, I'm not sure it will become a staple in my listening - I have listened to both the Schoenberg and Schubert twice but they may not get a third airing.

The works themselves need no introduction and I won't comment on the Schoenberg because I heard it first by Karajan and the BPO, live and coupled with an astonishing Brahms Symphony No 1. I am in awe of what Karajan did with Verklärte Nacht and this has spoiled quirtet readings for me, for now anyway.

So yes I bought it for the D956 and while I enjoyed the third and fourth movements (the first sounded OK, nothing more) the Adagio was very disappointing and since this is the real soul of the work, I can't give this CD more than a 3. I found the dropping down to inaudible then swelling to deafening distracting, forced and affectated. Casals and Rostropovich especially dwarf her version with their feeling for the work: this CD didn't really engage me at all...maybe even bordering on soulless.

To nail my colours to the mast I'm also of the opinion that many of the new younger "talent" playing the great composer's works can often be characterized by homogenized technique and photo shopped album covers. If you are new to these works I'd suggest buying the Rostrovich/Melos Quartett which is a far better reading of this gigantic Schubert work (and at a far lower price).

Sorry, Ms Jansen: you and your friends are talented but I think you have a way to go before you reach maestro status like Rostropovich, Casals, Oistrakh, Mutter, Menuhin and Heifetz, to name a few of the true legends.
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on 3 March 2015
I cannot believe how good this is. The performances are so detailed and expressive - yet the works are quicker than the Holliger Schoenberg (string orchestra) and Lindsay Quartet Schubert Quintet versions I have used for comparison. There is just so much more going on in the Schoenberg and in the slow movement of the Schubert they knock minutes off the admitedly very slow Lindsay performance while seeming to have all the time in the world for all the expression one could hope for. I would recommend anyone to buy this, whatever versions they may already have.
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on 11 July 2013
Although the album cover features the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, presumably for marketing purposes, this disc (a generous 83 minutes) is really a team effort by Jansen and five of her colleagues from the Chamber Music Festival that she directs in Utrecht. It is an absolutely marvelous recording. The sound does justice to all the instruments without destroying the sense of an ensemble that is crucial to these pieces -- it's as good sound as I've heard anywhere in a chamber recording, up there with the Takacs Quartet's Beethoven. I'm not all that familiar with "Verklaerte Nacht," but this version sounds gorgeously atmospheric, with nonetheless plenty of dynamic variety to engage the ear. I look forward to hearing other recordings. The Schubert String Quintet I am more familiar with, and this one is as fine as any I've heard. The first two movements are long, so dynamic variation and plasticity of phrasing are crucial, and this ensemble delivers almost uncannily -- clearly, they are listening to each other, responding to each other, so although the music is often slow in the early movements, there is always a sense of a developing forward movement. The expressiveness of the phrasing by all the instruments is riveting. The handling of the slow movement, with its obsessive little figures that aren't quite melody and with its outburst of angst or even terror in the middle is just superbly dramatic, and the trio in the scherzo movement harks back to the main subject of the slow movement to keep us in the same expressive space, so to speak. The final movement, not too fast but sounding weighed down by the burden of the earlier movements, catches up on some material from the first movement and brings a sense of unity to the whole. Apart from Jansen, the musicians on this disc aren't "big names" -- but they're very good and they are all in the zone here. A great disc!
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on 3 June 2013
There's a wonderful synergy to Janine Jansen's latest disc for Decca, in which the prophetic qualities of Schubert's late String Quintet and Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht reflect across the decades. The music late 1820s Vienna is played as if composed in the full heat of Romanticism, while Schoenberg's late night confession foresees even darker truths. Performed with aching warmth and often vivid attack, this is one of 2013's must-have discs.

Recordings of both of works are, of course, legion. Schubert's String Quintet in particular has many great exponents. Among recent accounts, I've reviewed the Belcea Quartet's account with Valentin Erben, the Tokyo Quartet and David Watkin and the Takács and Ralph Kirshbaum's recording on Hyperion . Jansen and her hand-picked team of Boris Brovtsyn, Amihai Grosz, Jens Peter Maintz and Torleif Thedéen provide their own determined path between those readings. While offering something of the beauty of the Tokyo and Takács, Jansen and her colleagues imbue Schubert's nigh-deathbed work with some of the Belcea's embittered punch.

The opening movement and Adagio have a honeyed warmth, yet there's energy here too, with snap in the violin's scurrying lines and a rather bruised cutting-short of the phrases in the second movement - still a little on the Andante side, for my taste, as at Wigmore Hall last year. This lively rhetoric is also apparent in the subtly highlighted passing of the melodic line between the players. This vivacity contrasts with the velvety almost muted tone that has been captured by Decca in the Konzerthaus in Dortmund, which by sheer variance highlights those more spirited aspects in the performance.

Schoenberg's imaginative response to Richard Dehmel's poem is likewise played with verve and intimacy. In many ways this feels like the more obviously 'chamber' work, reversing our expectations of the Schubert and Schoenberg alike. Yet there's plenty of drama here too, as the opening bars carry the weighty baggage of infidelity, seemingly desperate to confess.

It brilliantly prepares for the violence that follows, in which the virtuosic exposure of Schoenberg's original string sextet line-up adds a bitterness to the sound that is sometimes glossed over in the later plusher orchestration. Such savagery likewise tees up the resolution, which Jansen and her fellow musicians deliver with a truly ethereal sweetness. Separately, these works can prove searing. Hearing them together, as here, is not for the emotionally insecure.
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on 1 September 2013
Great cd revealing how fine Janine Jansen is at chamber repertoire, and her finding a response from her partners. I am a great fan of here and look to her next cd
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