What: Brahms, String Quartet No 3 & Clarinet Quintet (Naxos)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: Superb Brahms revives fond concert-hall memories

When the New Zealand String Quartet released an impressive Brahms CD last year, many wondered when the composer's third and final quartet would also appear on disc.
Naxos has now put anxious minds at ease, offering the third and final quartet coupled with the later Clarinet Quintet, featuring Canadian James Campbell.

One of the NZSQ's real strengths has always been its unstinting energy in handling rhythmic elements. Not only does this make for compulsively watchable live performances but it also transfers remarkably well to disc.

You'll be transfixed from the first minute of this outing as the players navigate the swerving and swirling textures until they relax with an insouciant, almost polka-like, dance tune.


Brahms' rich lyricism, another hallmark of his late romantic style, is never sacrificed; leader Helene Pohl soars over the Andante while Gillian Ansell's viola introduces the ensuing scherzo with a graceful Viennese lilt.

Both works here were recorded in Toronto in July 2015, a year after the group toured New Zealand with clarinetist James Campbell.

In Auckland, we had an unforgettable evening of clarinet quintets, with Brahms preceded by autumnal Mozart. Campbell's spoken introduction to the Brahms, preparing us for feelings of resigned acceptance, reflection and nostalgia, still holds true for this later recording.

Emotions are just as vivid and engaging as they were on stage three years ago and, once more, the billowing, surging launch of the Allegro is impossible to resist.

Campbell bewitches us with song in the Adagio, floating over gossamer strings and the final minute, recalling the work's opening page, may well have you returning immediately for a second hearing.

What: Ravel, Orchestral Works 5 (Naxos)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Naxos opens a Ravel curiosity cabinet with style

Naxos Records may well have come up with the ultimate Ravel CD for those who mistakenly think they have everything the Frenchman ever wrote.

The fifth volume of the label's splendid series of Ravel's complete orchestral music features Leonard Slatkin and his Orchestre National de Lyon playing his incidental music for Antar.

Devotees of the Russian romantic repertoire may already know Antar as an 1868 symphonic suite by Rimsky-Korsakov, a work so troublesome to its composer that he revised it twice in the next three decades. Enter Ravel who, in 1910, significantly rescored this exotic music for a Parisian production of a play, Antar, by the Lebanese writer Chekri Ganem.

And the journey doesn't stop there. On this disc, the Antar experience has been compressed into 53 minutes of glorious music with actor Andre Dussollier weaving in new words by another Lebanese writer, Amin Maalouf.

However, don't be daunted by what sounds like a musicological minefield. My advice is to surrender to the enchantment on offer. With the booklet's crisp translations of the spoken texts in hand, you'll be spellbound by the adventures of warrior-poet Antara ibn Shaddad in what has been described as the Romeo and Juliet of the Arab world, with the classiest soundtrack imaginable.

Completing the disc is another, more familiar work that also grew from Ravel's love of things Middle Eastern. These days, the 1903 song-cycle Sheherazade is usually the domain of sopranos and, in this recording, mezzo Isabelle Druet doesn't quite have the voluptuous tone of a Regine Crespin or Renee Fleming.