Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Two great quartets, plus a potent "trou"

String Quartets by Debussy, Tailleferre, Ravel

The Debussy and Ravel String Quartets have been paired for so long on records - one to a side on LPs, and then side-by-side on CDs - that they begin to resemble each other, like old couples or dogs and masters. Once the two works were matched as twins of the "Impressionist" family, but now the challenge is to differentiate them: each a classic, to be sure, but representing two very different composers. The Stenhammar Quartet clearly contrasts Debussy's whole tone scales with Ravel's Basque-inspired tonality; Debussy's ambiguous rhythms with Ravel's strongly accented folkloric ones; and Debussy's colourful ambiguity with Ravel's precision and clarity. These are two highly characterized works, well-paced, and played with style and wit.

In the serious world of French gastronomy, it's customary to serve a glass of Calvados between courses of an elaborate meal. "Le trou Normand", it's called; the idea is to create a "hole" in the stomach to make room for the delicacies to come. More than a mere palate cleanser, the String Quartet of Germaine Tailleferre is short but as potent as the fiery apple liquor, digging a hole in our musical repast to allow the proper perspective on our two major works. Tailleferre and her colleagues of Les Six inhabit a faster, more modern world than the pre-World War I quartets of their elders, but they are their true heirs. This is clever programming by the Swedish group, with a sparkling performance reinforcing Tailleferre's rising reputation.

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