Classical CD Reviews

DEBUSSY: String Quartet in G Minor; RAVEL: String Quartet – Quatour Talich – La Dolce Volta

Quatour Talich revels in the two great French chamber music staples deemed "impressionistic" in the popular canon.

Published on November 2, 2012

DEBUSSY: String Quartet in G Minor; RAVEL: String Quartet – Quatour Talich – La Dolce Volta

DEBUSSY: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10; RAVEL: String Quartet in F Major – Quatour Talich – La Dolce Volta LDV 08, 52:29 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

When the Cesar Franck String Quartet appeared in 1890, Debussy became confident that chamber music offered a medium to which he could contribute. Debussy sought “a music. . .supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and the fantasy of dreams.” The Quatour Talich (rec. February 2012 in Prague) approaches the Debussy Quartet of 1893 – his only published work deemed worthy of an opus number – with an innate sympathy for the organic form Debussy favored, a transformative melodic impulse taken from Liszt and Franck that eschews the dramatic “shock” tactics of the German style of musical contrasts.

Sweetly seductive, the opening movement – in the Phrygian mode of G Minor – elicits from Quatour Talich a hearty virile resonance, particularly in the two low strings—Vladimir Bukac and Petr Prause—viola and cello, respectively. The secondary theme, too, derives from an alchemical variant of the principal motif. The two top voices—violins Jan Talich and Roman Patocka—bite incisively into the plastic phrases while the viola embellishes the dark side of the musical line. The second movement, Assez vif et bien rhythme, asserts a kind of musical minimalism through rhythmic repetitions proffered by the viola over pizzicato strummings from above. Whether expressive of Parisian wit or Javanese exoticism, the whirling masses of sound exert a hypnotic fascination, especially when played with the athletic commitment of this ensemble.

My late teacher, Jean Casadesus, held the Andantino in special regard, and the music was heard at his memorial service. Its muted beauties in D-flat Major might nod to the Russian school that Debussy imbibed as a member of the Nadezhda von Meck circle. A serene intimacy evolves and becomes passionate, enough to warrant the shedding of the con sordino instruction. Jan Talich, plying his resonant Antonio Stradivari (1729), makes his expressive presence felt, as does violist Bukac on his throaty Santi Lavazza from 1725. The resonant cello of Petr Prause’s Giovanni Grancino (1710) announces the mazy opening motif of the last movement, then the viola extends the sentiment. Debussy follows a more traditional path by exploiting his theme in the manner of imitation, inversion, and fugato. The effect grows decidedly “symphonic,” and contemporary critics balked at what they considered “an orgy of modulation.” The Quatour Talich suffers no such censorious inhibitions, and the music gains by their unabashed, suave bravura.

Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F (1902-03) derives from influences that embrace Gabriel Faure, Claude Debussy, and the Javanese gamelan orchestra that appeared at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris.  Despite the exoticism and the use of cyclic principles in the melodic line and its evolution, Ravel adheres to the sonata-form of Mozart, the composer whose elegant clarity he never ceased to admire.  Quatour Talich addresses this lovely work with a directness of expression and chiseled beauty of tone that bears no false note or gesture. The cantering gait of the material leading to the secondary theme exerts a luxury of feeling that avoids becoming de trop, a chastity of means perennially effective.

My own favorite among the charmed four movements, the Assez vif. Tres rhythme second movement, sparkles with vibrantly exotic color effects, pizzicati and tremolos of urgent power yet fascinating restraint. The two lower strings exert pungent energy and then yield to a romantic nostalgia in the trio section. The cello explores some deep regions of feeling as well as sound. Tres lent, the third movement permits Quatour Talich their approximation of an improvised minor-key meditation, the various members of the ensemble each indulging in some degree of solo work in the midst of an ongoing reverie. A five-beat pattern establishes a degree of unease about the last movement, Vif et agite. With brilliantly “orchestral” elan, the Quatour Talich recalls motifs and sound-effects from prior movements, here mixed deliciously in a crisp alchemy of irregular metrics and shimmering episodes in kaleidoscopic hues. The swirling enchantment continues through arpeggiated crescendi that culminate in F Major, a victory of color instinct of the highest order.

—Gary Lemco

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