'Death and the Maiden'

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Patricia ­Kopatchinskaja

Of all the CDs the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has issued in its 40-year recording history, none pushes the envelope further than "Death and the Maiden," its new release on the Alpha label. As the title suggests, the main work is Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, named after "Death and the Maiden," a song by Schubert whose melody he uses in the quartet's slow movement.

But this is not "Death and the Maiden" as we normally hear it. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Moldovan violinist who is one of the SPCO's artistic partners, has arranged Schubert's quartet for the 20 SPCO string players listed in the CD booklet. To Schubert's original scoring for two violins, a viola and cello she adds a trenchant part for the orchestra's excellent double bassist Zachary Cohen. She also adds some solos for herself, where she detaches from the other violinists.

And that's not all. Taking her cue from the fatalistic atmosphere of Schubert's music, Kopatchinskaja separates and surrounds the four movements of the quartet with pieces by other composers, including John Dowland and György Kurtág. These are melancholy and spectral in tone, and refract fascinatingly the experience of Schubert's hauntingly beautiful music.

The St. Paul players perform superbly in this hourlong sequence, delivering performances of electrifying precision and exquisite nuance. The recorded sound, taken from three live concerts at the Ordway Concert Hall, is excellent. For a snapshot of the boldness and sense of innovation the SPCO is currently bringing to its concerts, look no further.