Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Concert for violin, piano and string quartet Op.21 (1889-91) [37:58]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor Op.10 (1893) [25:59]
Cello Sonata in D minor (1915) [12:58]
Artur Balsam (piano); Louis Kaufman (violin); Pascal Quartet (Chausson);
Pascal Quartet (Debussy Quartet)
Raya Garbousova (cello): Artur Balsam (piano) (Debussy Sonata)
rec. c.1948 - early 1950s
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 533 [76:58]
Restoring 1950s vinyl is Forgotten Records’ raison d’être. They’ve selected astutely, avoiding the more run-of-the-mill discs that have generated international re-releases over the years, and focused on the more hard-to-find items. That said, in the case of this Debussy and Chausson release they run into competition, in particular in the case of Bridge’s release devoted to the molten tonalist that was Louis Kaufman, seducer of a hundred film soundtracks, art lover, connoisseur and author of an outstanding and beautifully produced autobiography.
Both Bridge (9225) and Pristine Audio (PASC049) have released this performance of the Chausson Concert. I’ve not heard the latter, but the Bridge disc was cut at a somewhat higher level, to mask rumble and the occasional tick and scratch - and some inherent distortion. The truth is that these Parisian studios favoured a rather dry sound and this sec quality is not always beneficial to romantic music. In any case that Bridge twofer contained a deal of Dvořák so one’s choice will be influenced largely by repertoire as much as by transfer aesthetics.
Kaufman plays with vibrant intensity, as ever, quivering with drama and communicative élan. The Sicilienne is delightfully done, and the Grave full of power and intensity released by the driving finale. The problems that exist concern the largely ineradicable one of the violin being forwardly balanced over Artur Balsam’s piano and the Pascal Quartet. Balsam is a leonine and hugely accomplished contributor, and the Pascal are on home ground. This is a work, though, that can lead to intonational problems and there are some of those, both from Kaufman (in the heat of battle) and indeed from the quartet. They don’t particularly worry me, but I have, in the past, received vigorous missives from listeners outraged that musicians from the past committed slips when recording, so I think I should note these lapses, such as they are.
The Pascal takes the honours in the Debussy Quartet, which has also been transferred, once more unheard by me, on Pristine Audio (PACM031). From the Capet to the Loewenguth, French quartets of this period (and earlier) evinced a wondrous variety of ways to play so central and canonic a work. From the senza vibrato Capet to the express train intensity of the Bouillon Quartet - I don’t think I’ve ever heard a faster performance - there are horses for courses. The Pascal combine the lissom with the masculine, their weighty pizzicati ring out, and there’s a valid sense of textual aeration allied to expressive hauteur. They are full of feeling in the Andantino, metrically flexible, and their playing is raptly beautiful, phrasally suggestive and wholly admirable.
It’s good also to revisit Raya Garbousova’s performance of the Cello Sonata with Balsam. They make an excellent ensemble and their instincts are just. I admit my own strong admiration for Maurice Maréchal’s peerless 78 performance with Robert Casadesus - one of those affairs where you can imagine it done no other way, but there are other ways. What lets down this Garbousova traversal is the dryly unsympathetic acoustic, which doesn’t flatter either musician’s tone.
This intense trio of performances works well together, with the caveats as noted. I happen also to prefer this transfer of the Chausson to the Bridge.
This intense trio of performances works well together.