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Maurice OHANA (1913 – 1992)
String Quartet No.1 (1963) [16:27]
String Quartet No.2 (1980) [21:53]
String Quartet No.3 (1989) [24:03]
Quatuor Psophos (Ayako Tanaka, Bleuenn Le Maître, violins; Cécile Grassi, viola; Ingrid Schoenlaub, cello)
Recorded: Auditorium, Conservatoire Georges Bizet, Paris, July 2004
AR RÉ-SÉ AR 2004-7 [62:53]

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Trained as a pianist, Ohana did not write much for strings (excepting his music for the guitar). The notable exceptions are his two cello concertos (Anneau du Tamarit and Concerto “in dark and blue”) and his three string quartets, the latter important milestones in his output. He wrote his first string quartet late in his composing life, when he was fifty, and with already several major achievements to his credit. Though few in number, Ohana’s string quartets may be put alongside those of Bartók and Carter whose novel approach to the medium proved fruitful for many present-day composers. They also perfectly illustrate the highly personal, uncompromising nature of his music composed in complete independence, regardless of any current musical trend or fashion. Ohana always succeeded in remaining his own man, which is – to my mind – one of his most endearing qualities.

String Quartet No.1, originally titled Cinq Séquences pour quatuor à cordes, was composed in 1963 and first performed by the Quatuor Parrenin who were responsible for many first performances of modern pieces during the 1960s. Later, though, the composer dropped the central movement Tympanum, dear to his heart, but apparently too difficult to bring out successfully in performance. So, the First String Quartet is in four movements (Polyphonie, Monodie, Déchant and Hymne) the titles of which speak for themselves. Things, however, must never be taken for granted, for Ohana’s independence will always deliver surprises. So, if Polyphonie is exactly that, the second movement Monodie, a sort of impassioned Scherzo mostly consisting of accompanied recitatives, has rough edges sometimes at odds with its title. Déchant rather functions as a mysterious, nocturnal slow movement. The concluding Hymne moves fiercely, mostly in homophony and provides an assertive conclusion, although its coda is rather more understated.

String Quartet No.2, dedicated to fellow composer and former pupil Edith Canat de Chizy, is also in four movements: Sagittaire (rather song-like, but capricious and with many fierce accents), Mood (mysterious, more static in character, harmonically unstable with many glissandi, and moving in half-light), Alborada (continues almost in the same vein, but suggesting some repressed energy) imperceptibly leading into the concluding Faran-Ngô (a typical Ohana title, this) that after a slow introduction becomes more animated. The Second String Quartet ends with a brilliant flourish abruptly cut short.

String Quartet No.3 (subtitled Sorgin-Ngô) is a substantial single movement playing for 24 minutes. This is from Ohana’s full maturity when he was composing in complete freedom, as inventive and imaginative as ever, with some considerable fancy and aural sensuality. The music moves in waves towards exalted, impassioned climaxes thus putting the slower sections into sharp relief. The overall impression is that of music flowing almost effortlessly throughout. This is probably the most readily accessible of these three major scores.

These demanding, but ultimately quite rewarding pieces are superlatively played by the young women of the Psophos Quartet. The recording may be a bit too close for some tastes, but is on the whole perfectly suited to Ohana’s vital music. Excellent notes by Stéphane Goldet, though I wish that she had told us more about the music. This important release should not be missed by any Ohana fan. Strong stuff, but well worth the effort.


Hubert Culot

Note : To anyone interested in Ohana’s life and work, I suggest the well-presented site that offers some interesting information and articles as well as a complete list of works and a fairly complete discography.



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