Opera Suites for Nonet: Act I - Ensemble Minui
Ars Produktion ARS 38 290
Classical - Chamber
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
(all arranged by Stefan Potzmann)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 16, 2020
Less is More?
Some years ago, colleague Mark Werlin enthused about Mahler’s ninth symphony in a ‘reduced’ version for small ensemble Mahler: Symphony No. 9 - Gale calling it “a very enjoyable listening experience” … “presenting a very familiar work in an unfamiliar context, so that the music itself may be reconsidered and newly appreciated”. More recently I reviewed TRPTK’s recording of Beethoven’s second symphony in another reduced version, played ‘breathtakingly’ well by the nine members of the InterContinental Ensemble (published on the blog site of Native DSD). Here we have a ‘Nonet’, consisting of nine prominent members of the Kärntner Sinfonieorchester (Carinthian Symphony Orchestra), Klagenfurt, Austria, calling themselves Ensemble Minui (derived from Latin ‘making it smaller’), with an unusual programme borrowed from three well-known operas ‘to broaden the repertoire for Nonets’.
Music for nonets is, indeed, limited and, at least initially, mostly meant for ‘salon’ performances. Of late, more ambitious compositions have seen the light, but there clearly is room for more. The charm of such smaller chamber ensembles is that nine musicians, usually, though there is no hard and fast rule, composed of a mixture of strings and wind instruments, amongst which a contra-bass and a horn, are able to cover the entire range of an orchestra. Joolz Gale’s Ensemble Mini and the InterContinental Ensemble, though not quite in the same league, effectively demonstrate how ‘Less is More’ by successfully creating a whole ‘new' range of reduced orchestral repertoire, giving the listener a chance to better understand and follow the complexities of the score.
Stefan Potzmann, the clarinettist of Minui, had the brilliant idea to apply the principle of ‘Less is More’ to the opera, and notably by including ‘voice’ in the reductions. For his arrangements of excerpts taken from three popular operas -calling them Nonet Suites- he chose a very present-day, though possibly as old as humanity, common denominator: Powerful Women (please read the liner notes). In order of appearance: Strauss’ Marschallin, The Benevolent; Puccini’s Tosca, The Impulsive, and Dvorak’s Rusalka, The Naïve. The strength of these suites lies not only in the choice of the parts relating to some main events and the inclusion of the famous La Tosca and Rusalka’s Moon arias, but also, and more than anything else: The excellent quality of Potzmann’s arrangements.
As said above, the nine members of Ensemble Minui come from the same orchestra, with the obvious advantage of knowing one another inside out. This puts their overall performance in a much better focus than some ad hoc ensembles, getting together for the sake of making a recording, with short practicing time and limited recording sessions, are able to achieve. The result is as evident as it is a most revealing experience: After several rounds of intensive and analytical listening, I couldn’t but admit that these musicians are in no way junior to any of their colleagues in the Big Orchestras.
No doubt greatly helped by the musical ears, the technical skills, and the immense patience of the ARS recording engineers, Martin Rust and Manfred Schumacher, I was able to fully indulge in the selected opera arrangements, played with so much musical commitment and radiant finesse, even to the point -and perhaps strangely so- that I did not miss any of the singing parts! Cynical people might say that it allowed me to enjoy the score without being distracted by all too ambitious singing.
The sound has clearly been mastered for the many surround aficionados who enjoy being wholly part of the action, preferring to sit in between, rather than in front of the musicians. It certainly does give an additional boost to the soundstage and a large amount of extra thrill as well, but if such is not your take, I suggest sitting more upfront or lowering the volume of the surround speakers.
First-rate sound, top arrangements, and perfect playing is one thing, but there is more that merits our genuine attention; something that is also close to my heart: A recording in high resolution is expensive, and for the many talented musicians and orchestral formations, having no fixed contract with the Big Labels, nor an invitation from a smaller, independent one, it is difficult to procure the necessary funds, if it weren’t for cultural and private initiative support programmes and, indeed, modern times obliging: Crowd Funding, to lend them a generous hand. We, lovers of music, produced and recorded in the highest attainable quality, should be immensely grateful for all those having made this fantastic release possible.
Mission accomplished ‘cum laude’.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net