I was absolutely
delighted to receive this CD. I have never heard the String
Quartet by Germaine Tailleferre – and it turned out to be somewhat
of an eye-opener. I imagined that I would like the work and
I was totally correct in this assumption. Much of my review
will concentrate on this piece.
The programme notes
spell out the benefit of studying the three works on this disc
side by side. Ravel of course is the progenitor of the other
two pieces – not so much in the sense of Tailleferre and Milhaud
indulging in pastiche or cribbing but in using the style and
ethos of the older master’s music as a springboard for their
own works. It is often noted that Ravel did not develop a school
of sycophantic musicians copying or even developing his style.
Yet the quartets by Milhaud and Tailleferre go some way to acknowledging
the importance of Ravel’s own essay in this form.
I will not say much
about the Ravel Quartet as this work is well served by musical
criticism as well as by recordings. There are some 43 versions
available on the Arkiv database.
However, the fortunes
of the Milhaud String Quartet No.4 have been the very
opposite of Ravel’s. Apart from this present CD there is only
one other version available. This is on Troubadisc 1410. I had
not listened to this work before receiving the review copy –
and I am impressed (It’s also included in the Naïve set of the
complete quartets - see Review
The work was composed
in 1918 whilst Milhaud was an attaché at the French Embassy
in Brazil. He had been taken by Paul Claudel as a member of
his staff to assist in ‘propaganda’. Milhaud made great use
of his time in Rio de Janeiro absorbing much from Latin-American
culture in general, and developing an admiration for jazz and
popular music in particular.
The first movement
of the String Quartet opens with little ado. There is a hint
of a folk-song here which has been described as ‘seen through
Picasso’s eyes’. It is not developed or manipulated to any degree
and is very short and to the point lasting only just over two
minutes. Towards the end of this Vif the music becomes both
slower and quieter: the mood-change has been engineered to prepare
the listener for the long and lugubrious Funèbre. This
second movement is obviously the core of the work and lasts
nearly twice as long as the two outer movements put together.
It is composed of various rhythmic and melodic fragments that
seem to be combined and then deconstructed. In fact, it is only
a funeral march for some its duration. I cannot really agree
with the programme notes that the fugato section ‘(evokes) the
sphere of the sublime and of sacred music through the old style’.
This seems a little bit pretentious! Yet this is an intense
piece of writing that explores a considerable depth of emotion;
it is also extremely beautiful. There is some fine string writing
that tests the considerable technique of the players.
The Finale - Très
Animé - breaks away from the deep sadness of the slow movement.
It is all over in a trice really. This is a rhythmic ‘last’
movement that possibly hints at a Latin American vernacular
yet there are no direct references or quotations. The work ends
positively with all trace of sadness banished.
was quite young when she penned her String Quartet. Although
the sleeve-notes do not actually give a date it was around the
end of the First World War. At this time Tailleferre was in
the same artistic set as Pablo Picasso and Modigliani. And it
was these connections that led to early successes. She was introduced
to the Paris musical establishment in a concert given in the
studio of one of her painter friends. Her Sonatine for String
Quartet along with her Jeux de Pleine Aire was well received
along with works by Louis Durey and Francis Poulenc. After the
concert the Sonatine was revised into the present String Quartet
– with the addition of a third movement.
There are some similarities
and also dissimilarities from the elder composer’s essay. For
a start, Tailleferre’s Quartet is one movement shy of Ravel’s
and is a full 10 minutes shorter! However the opening Modéré
is certainly reminiscent of the model. Much of the playing
could be described as ‘trés flessible’ even if this is not in
the score. There is certainly an intimate feel about this music
that epitomises chamber music at its best. There are some mild
dissonances in this first movement that certainly add spice
and interest to a well wrought piece.
is quite a mysterious movement rather than dark or depressing.
Perhaps enigmatic is the best description? Yet there seems to
be some cross referencing to the Modéré in these pages.
The last movement
is by far the longest – being nearly as long as the previous
two together. This music is actually quite aggressive and even
dissonant in places. There are some quasi-motor rhythms used
although they do not last for long before being cast aside.
These are interspersed with some moments of repose. A chorale
type phrase emerges before the work comes to a successful and
quite memorable conclusion.
There is considerable
variety in this Quartet – one could even argue for stylistic
disparity between the parts. Yet somehow the work does have
a unity. Perhaps it is the internal self referencing? And one
final comment - any comparison with Ravel must bear in mind
that the world had moved on since 1904 – the First World War
was still raging across Europe when Germaine Tailleferre penned
Is this a great
work? I do not know but it is certainly well written, intellectually
satisfying and quite moving which suggests that this could well
be the case.
The playing of all
three works by the Leipzig String Quartet cannot be faulted
in any way. They have a fine reputation for playing 20th
century works including John Cage and Roman Haubenstock-Ramati.
But they also play Beethoven, Schubert and other classics. They
currently have some 270 works in their repertoire and some sixty
I certainly enjoyed
their rendition of the Ravel. Its phrasing, balance and
poise appealed to my views as to how this work should be played.
It is one of the ensemble’s boasts that a considerable amount
of historical study goes into the preparation of each performance
and recording. This is evident from the sophistication of their
For anyone wishing
a version of the Ravel Quartet alone this is an ideal CD. Furthermore
it is good that the coupling is not Debussy but rather two lesser-known
works that certainly deserve our attention.
Only two negative
points about this CD: firstly MDG could have done better than
50 minutes 42 seconds. There was certainly room for another
quartet! Secondly the programme notes are not over-informative.
They tend to be opinion rather than fact. I noted above that
the dates of Tailleferre’s work are not given.
This apart I would
heartily recommend this disc to all listeners: a good programme
with excellent performances.