This disc is chock-a-block full of familiar favourites attired in different threads.
To start, the Suite No. 5 in C Minor. The “Prelude” is immediately engaging and impassioned—listeners will be rewarded with copious amounts of C-string “ring.’ Perhaps the micing is a touch too close—hearing every breath and finger shift doesn’t add a lot to the music—but then the comfort of the major soothes all souls. Once the counterpoint is unleashed, Ben Capps delivers a relative looseness that fits the busy lines to a T, before the quasi cadenza adroitly recalls the mood of the opening.
The “Allemande” is notable for its unobtrusive ornaments, truly rendered dotted rhythms and a welcome sense of forward flow. A tad more “relax” might improve the “Courante”—still, the always-secure double stops were welcome at every turn. Without doubt, the “Sarabande” is the highlight of the set. Capps mines its “simple” emotion and singular lines with extraordinary aplomb.
A few bits of affectation slightly mar the overall effect of the “Gavotte”: more horizontal motion, less dalliance is wanted to dig deep into the fine art of understatement. The compelling lilt of the “Gigue” provides a memorable finish. Can’t wait to hear Capps’ second take, say 20 years hence!
The Schumann concerto is at once more intimate and “secret” than the full-blown orchestral version. Curiously, the ensemble is just a nickel short of razor-sharp precision. The Tallis String Quartet exudes energy and—collectively—breathe together with the intrepid soloist. The balance is remarkably good considering the severe reduction in component parts. Only a few just-short-of-perfection excursions to the upper reaches of the violins give any caution to the result. Clearly, Capps’ approach is more consistently at one with the Romantics than with the Baroque at this stage in his career. Whatever is lost in colour is more than made up for by first-rate ebb and flow.
The “Langsam” is notable for delicate pizzicato and wonderful intermingling of lines; the viola is especially discreet. The transition to the finale is a model of “menacing drama” at every turn. Once there—again with near-perfect togetherness—Capps sails through the technical challenges and is equally at home in all ranges. A true highlight is the cadenza-quasi-recitative, which deftly prepares the way for the happiness and joy that abound in the final measures.
The concluding “dessert”, (Konzertwaltzer), is a fun-filled, melodramatic parfait—if only life were this simple and enjoyable. Capps provides lovely half-steps while pianist Vassily Primakov is always supportive and “never too loud.”
What alternative do music lovers have but to snap up the disc and hear for themselves. JWR