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.
This third volume of the complete orchestral works by the great French composer Maurice Ravel features his music for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé, his longest work, written for Sergei Diaghalev’s Ballets Russes. The company gave the first performance in 1912. Ravel depicted the characters in the story with great musical delicacy, and the Stuttgart Orchestra reflects this through the attention it gives to the score’s finest nuances. Ravel secures scintillating effects from the large percussion section that he uses, a clear nod to ancient music. The Valses nobles et sentimentales were composed at the same time as the ballet, which makes it an appropriate coupling. The version for piano, clearly linked to Franz Schubert’s similarly named waltzes, was published in 1911, with the orchestral version following one year later. Again the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra gives a thrilling, first class interpretation.
The death of Henri Dutilleux on 22 May 2013 robbed the musical world of one of its most distinctive voices. Dutilleux was renowned for his exquisite craftsmanship and feel for instrumental colour, as well as for an extraordinary generosity of spirit that was invariably reflected in his music. Indeed, pianist Akanè Makita describes Dutilleux as a 'generous, sensitive man' who, when the artists involved in this recording wrote to him to tell him about the project, replied to say how 'greatly touched' and 'moved' he was. This warm and unexpected response from such an eminent composer inspired the musicians to put their all into the recording; the fact that it was completed on the day of Dutilleux's death makes it all the more fitting a tribute to him. The chamber works featured on this disc demonstrate Dutilleux's superb command of instrumental timbre – as flautist Andrea Oliva says, 'Dutilleux is brilliant at custom-designing the music to suit the specific characteristics of each instrument'.
The name of Henri Dutilleux (1916–2013) is associated above all with orchestral music. His international reputation originated with the Second Symphony, ‘Le Double’ (premièred in 1959) and was confirmed by works such as Métaboles and the cello concerto Tout un monde lointain… But what about before that? In the centennial year of the composer's birth, the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire and Pascal Rophé present a programme which focusses on works composed before 1954, and offers the opportunity to discover a less familiar but by no means negligible side of Dutilleux's creative activity: songs and music for the theatre and film. Several of the works on this disc are recorded for the first time in these versions, or indeed at all.
"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 exclusive Chandos artist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is a master of this repertoire. This is his second concerto recording for the label, after his survey of the complete piano concertos by Bartók (CHAN10610) which was released in September to high acclaim and voted ‘Orchestral Choice of the Month’ by the magazine BBC Music. Bavouzet’s complete recording of the piano music by Debussy also scooped awards from BBC Music and Gramophone, which wrote: ‘This could well be the finest and most challenging of all Debussy piano cycles.’ On this new release, Bavouzet is accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier, a conductor steeped in the French tradition and utterly at home in this repertoire. The result is a totally idiomatic performance of these French masterpieces for piano and orchestra.
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.