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Years ago, the long-defunct Command label trumpeted their new recording of the Brahms Second Symphony with William Steinberg with a review quote—I think it was David Hall—stating that this recording sounded like a real orchestra in a concert hall. A friend had the open reel version, and yes, the recording sounded very good, but not particularly remarkable.

Even with that old critical comment as a warning, I write without a modicum of caution that this recording by the Auryn Quartet of three French masterworks is extraordinarily lifelike, with a sense of space and spaciousness that I have rarely encountered. The sound is the story. Producer/engineer Andreas Spreer has created an unusual and startling recording perspective, placing the listener in the midst of the quartet. If the imagery is uncomfortable, you could imagine yourself very close to the stage or sitting on the stage close to the players. The recording’s warm ambiance never obscures its pristine clarity, allowing a wealth of details to emerge. Though the actual recording venue is not revealed, it alone could not be responsible for a recording that finds an ideal balance between a live acoustic and lucid transparency.

The downside is that the story of this disc is about the sound. Fine as these performances are, and the Auryn Quartet plays with a particularly beautiful and homogeneous sound, the quartet doesn’t reach the heart of the music—in the case of the Debussy and Ravel—as does the dazzling Quartetto Italiano in their EMI (not Philips) edition.

The Ravel receives a measured performance with rich textures and a sweet sound, more Brahms than Ravel to my ears. The Germans’ deliberate, thoughtful statement of the opening theme is striking, but it displays little of the animated imagination of the Quartetto Italiano. Even their rubato sounds cautious, though theirs is the performance that comes closest to Ravel’s Très doux indication. The second movement—Assez vif—is under-characterized, but the rhythmic integrity of accompaniment figures in this movement was striking.

The performance of the Debussy is disappointingly literal: The first movement is decidedly not Animé. Faure’s late quartet shows the Auryns at their best in a performance strong on structure. They have an instinctive feel for the valedictory sensibilities of this elusive score.

As I said, the sound is the story here, and for that reason alone, I will hold on to this disc. When I received the package specifying DVD-Audio, my initial reaction was to return it as I do not have a player that reads the format. As it happens, Tacet offers two formats on the disc: one, playable on all DVD players, the second for those with DVD-Audio machines. I enjoyed it in stereo, with four channels and with five. The rendering of the recorded space is superb and that alone may make this Tacet release intriguing enough.
Michael Fine

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