A varied and imaginative tapestry of night music, sumptuously performed

Ébène Quartet, Antoine Tamestit, Nicolas Altstaedt: ’Round Midnight


The Strad Issue: December 2021

Description: A varied and imaginative tapestry of night music, sumptuously performed

Musicians: Ébène Quartet, Antoine Tamestit (viola) Nicolas Altstaedt (cello)

Works: Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit. Merlin: Night Bridge. Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht

Catalogue number: ERATO 9029664190


This is one of the most imaginatively planned discs to have come my way in quite a while. Rather than merely lumping together two nocturnally inspired chamber works, the Ébène Quartet literally provides a bridge between them in the form of a selection of jazz standards newly arranged by the quartet’s cellist Raphaël Merlin. Taking its cue from Dutilleux’s multi-movement Ainsi la nuit, Night Bridge intersperses inventively embellished, dream-like ‘memories’ of ‘Moon River’, ‘Round Midnight’ and so on with atmospheric parentheses. An introduction leads in naturally from Dutilleux’s final ‘Temps suspendu’ and the pulsating low E flats of its dawn-chorus-filled coda, ‘Lever du jour’, seem naturally to presage the Ds at the start of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

But more than simply a well put-together programme, these are particularly fine performances as well as being sumptuously recorded. The night music of the Dutilleux is compellingly played, and comes across as far more than just a showcase of imaginative quartet writing – there’s an aching quality to ‘Litanies 2’, for example. Meanwhile, this account of the Schoenberg, with the Ébène joined by two esteemed colleagues, really feels like the work of an expanded quartet, so integrated is the ensemble. There’s a flexibility to the phrasing – never indulgent – that clearly seems to narrate the story of Dehmel’s poem.