> DEbussy, Ravel, Milhaud Quartets :Quartetto Italiano CDZ5 74792-2 [CC]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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HOFFNUNG for CHRISTMAS? an ideal Christmas present for yourself or your friends.
Books posted the day the order is received

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor.

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F.

Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
String Quartet No. 12, Op. 252.

Quartetto Italiano (Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, violins; Piero Farulli, viola; Franco Rossi, cello).
Recorded in the Basilica, Milan, 23 January 1954 (Debussy and Milhaud, recorded in mono) and in 1959 (Ravel, in stereo).
EMI Réferences CDH5 74792-2 [ADD] [74.02]


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Founded in 1945, the performances on this disc are by the Quartetto Italiano’s second line-up: in 1947, the violist Lionello Forzenti was replaced by the present violist, Pierro Farulli, whose place was, in turn, taken in 1978 by Dino Asciolla. It is difficult to know which is the greater attraction for the record buyer: the second recorded performance of the Debussy by this ensemble (together with its original mouthwatering coupling on Columbia, Darius Milhaud’s twelfth quartet, there receiving its first recording); or their first recording of the Ravel (also for Columbia, and in stereo: they were to rerecord it in 1965); or indeed, there are probably collectors who will buy this disc for the Milhaud. I do hope so.

The Debussy and Ravel quartets are hardly under-served on record. The most recent and obvious competition from this self-same record company is the Debussy/Ravel/Stravinsky disc by the Alban Berg Quartet in EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century series (CDM5 67550-2, enthusiastically and informedly reviewed for Music on the Web by Simon Foster). The Alban Berg’s recordings date from nearly thirty years later than the Italiano’s. Their similarly intrepid fill-ups (Stravinskian, this time) and excellent Debussy and Ravel mean that they would provide the ideal modern complement to the Quartetto Italiano’s 1950s accounts. I for one would certainly suggest investing in both.

Neither groups are of French origin, but neither show any discomfort whatsoever in these waters. The Quartetto Italiano’s Debussy is entirely successful. The infectious pizzicati of the second movement are truly guitar-like and the finale generates its tension from the performance’s rhythmic excellence. The players enter into Ravel’s rarefied sound-world as if to the manner born (the second movement is riveting). In both pieces, their fluid sense of rhythm consistently gives the music the time it requires to breathe. They exhibit a unanimity of thought which makes for a compelling listening experience.

Milhaud’s Twelfth Quartet was written in 1945 for Fauré’s centenary. Milhaud’s quartets are usually only known because two of them, Nos. 14 and 15, can be played simultaneously as an Octet. It is to be hoped that this reissue might encourage further exploration. To hear the Twelfth played, as here, with such advocacy is cheering indeed. The first movement comes across as sunny, tuneful and delightful; the second movement is whispered and intimate; the third (marked ‘avec entrain’, ‘With spirit’) is characterised by vivacious, foot-tapping rhythms and a sense of invention that threatens to spill over. If you want a comparative version which at the same time will introduce you to two further quartets from Milhaud’s canon, try the Parisii String Quartet on Auvidis V4781 (coupled with Nos. 3 and 9).

Whatever the reason you decide to buy this disc, you will not be disappointed.


Colin Clarke

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