CD Revives Chamber Pieces by Three French Composers
Quatuors à cordes: Debussy, Dutilleux, Ravel, Arcanto Quartet (Harmonia Mundi)
During the past five years, the long-neglected chamber works of French composers increasingly have drawn the attention of American and British recording artists. It’s an interesting development. This striking recording by the gifted Stuttgart-based Arcanto Quartet—violinists Antje Weithaas and Daniel Sepec, violist Tabea Zimmermann, and cellist Jean- Guihen Queyras—has compiled a program of idiosyncratic chamber pieces by three French composers, each responsible for writing a single string quartet.
The CD opens with Claude Debussy’s Quatuor à cordes, Op. 10, in G minor, a four-movement work with two outer movements that adopt the sonata form and that possesses a Romantic flair and symphonic sweep. After its 1893 premiere by the Ysaÿe Quartet, the work—which alternates between daring passages and beautiful melodies—bewildered the critics, who called it “appealing” and “charming,” yet “complicated” and “disconcerting.”
Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la nuit,” from 1976, has a dreamlike quality and is rife with abstract ideas and ethereal motifs that shift in a dizzying parade of variations.
The disc closes with Ravel’s 1903 Quatuor à cordes in F major, which has a variety of colors created through the use of pizzicato to replicate the sound of Spanish guitars or somber muted strings. More reserved, and at times more pastoral, than Debussy’s work, it has great harmonic clarity and transparency.
The Arcanto Quartet, with resumés that range from major orchestras and big-name chamber partners, draw the listener into the mystery and majesty of these works.