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Nicolas BACRI (b. 1961)
String Quartet No.3 Op.18 (1985/8, rev. 1989) [8:04]
String Quartet No.4 Op.42 (1989/95) [23:03]
String Quartet No.5 Op.57 (1997) [24:51]
String Quartet No.6 Op.97 (2005/6) [13:24]
Psophos Quartet
rec. Saint-Marcel Lutheran Church, Paris, 11-14 April 2007
AR RE-SE 2007-1 [70:15]
Experience Classicsonline

Now in his late forties, Nicolas Bacri, studied with Louis Saguer and later, when barely eighteen, with Claude Ballif, Marius Constant, Serge Nigg and Michel Philippot at the CNSM in Paris. In 1983 he was awarded a First Prize and, as a result, stayed at the Villa Médici. During his stay in Rome, he had the opportunity to meet and discuss music with Scelsi. These meetings had some influence on his music-making. This was mainly in making him aware of the value of sound as a thing in itself, although his music does not resemble Scelsi’s. Bacri has evidently learned from the Italian composer but his own music does not display any similar ascetic attitude. Bacri’s style might fairly be described as 20th Century lingua franca having roots in the so-called Second Viennese School as well as in a much wider stylistic tradition. Interestingly enough, his Cello Concerto is dedicated to the memory of Frank Bridge whose Oration had made a deep impression, and some of his cantatas (available on L’empreinte digitale ED 13170) often bring Gerald Finzi to mind. Incidentally, his Cantata No.4 Op.44b is inscribed "In memoriam Gerald Finzi". He has gathered an impressive number of awards, and many of his works have gained worldwide recognition. Some of you may remember that his compact, though quite impressive and strongly expressive Symphony No.6 Op.60 (1998) was one of the six finalists of the 2003 Masterprize. As can be seen in the above details, he already has a sizeable and substantial output including six symphonies, a number of concertos, seven string quartets (the String Quartet No.7 "Variations sérieuses" Op.101 was composed for the 2007 Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition), a substantial number of cantatas as well as a wide variety of chamber music. I first came to know his music when I found a second-hand copy of what I believe to be the first CD ever entirely devoted to his works: Et’Cetera KTC 1149 with four concerto-like works for cello and orchestra – his Cello Concerto Op.17 – as well as works for viola and orchestra and violin and orchestra. Incidentally, this disc was awarded the First Prize of the Nouvelle Académie du Disque in 1993. It is still worth looking out for because it provides a fair introduction to Bacri’s music. Similarly, the release under review allows us an appreciation of Bacri’s musical progress over the years; the four string quartets recorded here were composed between 1985 and 2006. Curiously enough, though, they are presented in reverse chronological order which – to a certain extent – is misjudged; but this will be about the only reservation that I will voice about this release.

The String Quartet No.3 Op.18, subtitled Esquisses pour un tombeau, was composed between 1985 and 1988 and revised in 1989. This short work in three concise movements played without break is inscribed "In memoriam Alexander Zemlinski" and bears a superscription drawn from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep". Incidentally, RVW once suggested that these words might fit the Epilogue of his Sixth Symphony. As already mentioned earlier in this review, the meetings with Scelsi had Bacri discovering "the life of the sound matter"; and this may be heard throughout the Third String Quartet although the music is entirely Bacri’s. In this fairly early work, faint echoes of Mahler as well as of the Second Viennese School’s aesthetics may be heard. It is more a matter of musical mood than of style.

The String Quartet No.4 Op.42, subtitled Omaggio a Beethoven, is a somewhat more developed piece with a long and chequered genesis. It was composed between 1989 and 1990, revised or rewritten between 1993 and 1994 and revised in 1995/6. Much of the music of the three movements is based on Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue Op.133 but also harks back to Bartók, as does much else in his output. Bacri’s Fourth String Quartet is roughly structured as a triptych with two slow, elegiac outer movements framing a more animated central Toccata that briefly quotes from Shostakovich’s Fifteenth String Quartet and makes a passing reference to Alban Berg’s Lyrische Suite. However, what might have become a mere collage in the hands of a lesser composer results – remarkably enough – in a magnificent and often gripping piece of music that needs repeated hearings to make its full impact. This remark applies to the piece as a whole for the Fourth String Quartet is probably the most complex work here more on account of its intricate structure than of the music itself.

The String Quartet No.5 Op.57 is structured along more traditional lines: in four movements with an alert, at times aggressive Scherzo placed third. The fourth movement is a fairly developed Passacaglia ending on a rather sad tone. The first movement Sonata opens in a dreamlike mood that contrasts with a much more energetic second subject. The slow movement Elegia in memory of a deceased friend of the composer is the emotional core and contains some of the most moving and beautiful music that Bacri has ever penned. The Scherzo bursts forth, almost brutally, from the ominous silence at the end of the second movement. For all its contrasting material, the concluding Passacaglia maintains an elegiac mood until its dismal coda.

The String Quartet No.6 Op.97, dedicated to the Psophos Quartet, is laid-out in three concise movements in a traditional structure: a slow movement framed by quick outer movements. The first movement opens with a slow introduction leading straight into the animated main part. The beautifully lyrical Adagio molto, that follows without break, develops material from the introduction of the first movement. The work ends with Variazioni alla fuga, a theme and variations capped by an assertive coda.

Some time ago, I most favourably reviewed another disc of Ohana’s string quartets played by the Psophos Quartet (Ar Re-Se AR 2004-7). This I found outstanding throughout. Now, these performances recorded in the presence of the composer also splendidly blend highly accomplished technique and musicality. The vital readings are superbly recorded and the production is excellent with detailed and informative notes by Bernard Fournier. This very fine release is a must for all admirers of this endearing composer’s music. Others will also find much to admire and enjoy here, for Bacri’s music always retains a compelling expressive strength that is hard to resist.

Hubert Culot


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