Eugčne YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Chamber Music for Strings
String Quintet in B minor, for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello (1894) [20:12]*
String Quartet 'Le Londres' (String Trio op.19, arr. Jacques Ysa˙e) [14:04]
Andante in B minor, for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello (1893) [13:56]*
Paganini Variations, for string quartet (arr. Jacques Ysa˙e ) [10:25]
Kryptos Quartet (Hanna Drzewiecka (1st violin); Elisabeth Wybou (2nd violin); Vincent Hepp (viola); Anthony Gröger (cello)); Vlad Bogdanas (viola)*
rec. Studio Toots, VRT, Brussels, 25-27 January 2009. DDD
ETCETERA KTC 4034 [58:37]

It seems improbable that Ysa˙e should still be the subject of premiere recordings of any of his works for strings eighty years on from his death. After all he was one of the greatest violin virtuosos of all time, and the composer of the Six Sonatas op.27, one of the finest cycles for solo violin known to music. Yet such is the case in this release by the Belgium-based Kryptos Quartet: only the Paganini Variations appear to have been recorded before, and not in this quartet arrangement.

Two of the four works are Ysa˙e's originals. Both the String Quintet and the separate Andante are in B minor and for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello. Apart from that there is no obvious connection between them - no indication that the Andante was ever intended for the Quintet, itself a single-movement work, that followed a year later. The Andante is an uncomplicated, highly lyrical, hugely memorable work. Its haunting cantilena is almost straight out of Piazzolla's pen, but in any case on a par with the most tuneful quartet writing of Saint-Saëns or Fauré. The comparative density of textures and the chromatic harmonies in the Quintet proper recalls Richard Strauss - indeed, Ysa˙e was working in Berlin at the time of Strauss's youthful String Quartet op.2. A work of great sophistication, its neglect by quartets and labels to date can only be described as bewildering.

On paper, the fact that two of the four works in Kryptos' recital are arrangements by Ysa˙e's grandson, Jacques Ysa˙e - a jazz musician referred to in the notes as 'Jazzy Jack Say' - does not augur well, calling to mind as it does the spectres of either Jacques Loussier or Gabriel Prokofiev. However, Jazzy's arrangements are very tastefully done, in a fashion of which Eugčne himself would surely have approved. In Eugčne's manuscript the String Quartet was in fact the first movement of a String Trio, later published as is as the Trio de Londres, op.19. Jacques arranged this Trio for quartet and gave it the name 'Le Londres' (although New Grove lists it as Trio de Concert) and that is what the Kryptos performs here. It is an attractive, engrossing work, with no obvious connection to London, but with more than a nod to Bach and Vivaldi in the string motifs and fugal music. Ysa˙e did not publish his Paganini Variations during his lifetime. Based on Paganini's famous op.1 Caprices no.24, Ysa˙e's original work was for solo violin, but this felicitous, untheatrical arrangement by Jacques makes a superb addition to the quartet repertoire, an instantaneous audience-pleaser.

The Kryptos Quartet, formed in 2002 and still fairly youthful, give enthusiastic, thoughtful interpretations of Ysa˙e's music, although their enthusiasm stops short of total inspiration. There are also a few technical imperfections here and there which, considered kindly, give the performances a raw edge.

Sound quality is very good. The booklet is informative, although much of its thickness is due to its quadrilingual constitution. Poor Vlad Bogdanas, second violist in the two Quintets, does not get a mention in it - he remains a mere item in a track-listing.

The CD is a bit on the short side, but that should not deter any lover of late 19th century string quartet or quintet music.

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Felicitous, untheatrical music - a superb addition to the quartet repertoire, an instantaneous audience-pleaser.