In addition to the traditional pairing of the Debussy and Ravel string quartets, the Arcanto Quartett performs Henri Dutilleux's Ainsi la Nuit (1971-1976), a grouping that is becoming increasingly popular on recordings. These are absolutely secure, thoughtful, self-effacing readings of the Debussy and the Ravel. While the quartet doesn't bring particular new revelations to the pieces, the members play with nuanced sensitivity and impeccable musicianship. The haunted quiet they achieve in the first part of the third movement of the Debussy is especially impressive, as is the clarity of their sense of direction and unity in the final movement, the most difficult of the four to pull off. Similarly in the Ravel, the contrast between the serenity of the third movement and the raw athleticism of the fourth is attention-grabbing and invigorating.
"Dutilleux's quartet has to be one of the finest post-war works in the genre. In seven movements (plus interludes) that play without a break, this seventeen minute work conjures up a bewildering variety of nocturnal moods, colours and atmospheres. Yet it is always strongly coherent, the writing unified by the composer's tendency to treat the four instruments of the string quartet as if they were one super-stringed instrument. The performance on this disc is absolutely stunning–the precision of the Arditti Quartet is matched by an imagination and colouristic range that's second to none."Recensie op Amazon.com
This venerable recording by the Italian Quartet from 1965 was, for many years, the standard reference copy of both works either individually or as a coupling. One of the considerable virtues of this group of players was that they could always be relied upon to play in tune and to play with musicianship. The competition was not so strong as it is today as many of the alternative groups simply could not deliver accuracy in tuning (or even worse, the notes). This was rarely commented upon in review magazines at the time, a source of complete bemusement for me, but as one who was expected to play in tune I found listening to string chamber music almost beyond bearing for much of the time - except for this group.
Even though Franz Joseph Haydn is widely credited as the father of the string quartet, the Casal Quartet makes a startling claim that the honor may belong to Franz Xaver Richter, whose seven String Quartets, Op. 5, seem to have determined the character of the genre, from their first performance by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf's quartet in 1757. Richter's quartets preceded Haydn's and Boccherini's earliest efforts by several years, suggesting that they were likely influential. Furthermore, the sophistication and polish of his Op. 5 suggests that he may well have composed other such quartets, though if he did, they are lost.
Few specifics are available regarding Spanish composer Josep Teixidor. Not even the date of his death nor the publication dates for many of his works are known for certain. It is not surprising that his music should be so little known. With so few examples of music from the Classical period outside of Germany and Italy, it is instructive to hear what was going on in nearby countries, and especially to notice just how far the long arms of masters such as Boccherini and Haydn reached. This album features three of his known string quartets, a genre certainly informed by Teixidor's knowledge of Haydn. The quartets are firmly rooted in Classical tradition, with no alarming or startling innovations to be found.
The Debussy and Ravel string quartets stand–along with some of Faure and Franck's chamber music–among the most elegant, refined pieces of music ever written: the perfect accompaniment for tea, madeleines and the emembrance of things past. It is hard to imagine anyone playing this music better than the Emerson String Quartet.
The Quartetto Italiano is regarded as one of the finest string quartets of the twentieth century. The group generally focused on quartet-only repertory, avoiding performance with guest artists of quintets and other larger compositions.
The staying power of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartets rivals that of his symphonies. His quartets are deeply personal works – intensely autobiographical, confessional, intimate, intensely emotional – and among the most insightful works in the quartet repertoire.
Stereo recordings from the early 1960s. Everyone has sentimental favorites, and this set is one of mine. Yes, the ensemble has a few rough spots now and again—nothing serious—but the playing has such warmth and emotional generosity, that bigness of spirit that’s so often forgotten in today’s Beethoven performances. The Budapest Quartet clearly frames its view of the composer in terms of the great, late quartets. So Op. 18, cultured and intelligent thought it is, could do perhaps with a touch more energy in spots, a leaner basic sonority. But once we hit the great middle quartets it’s smooth sailing right through to the end.