Jean CARTAN (1906-1932)
String Quartet no.1 in D minor (1927) [18:10]
Introduction and Allegro, for wind quintet and piano* (1926-27/1930) [8:16]
Sonatine, for flute and clarinet (1930) [9:13]
String Quartet no.2 in A (1930-31) [25:00]
Ensemble Stanislas* (Olivier Sauvage (flute); Pierre Colombain (oboe); Philippe
Moinet (clarinet); Nicolas Tacchi (bassoon); Pierre Riffault (horn); Catherine
Chaufard (piano)); Quatuor Stanislas (Laurent Causse and Bertrand Menut (violins);
Marie Triplet (viola); Jean de Spengler (cello))
rec. Salle Poirel, Nancy, France, June 2010 and February 2011. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1187 [60:53]
French composer Jean Cartan died of complications from tuberculosis aged only
25. His father was the illustrious mathematician Elie Cartan, whose name is
attached to the Einstein-Cartan Theory of Gravity, a 1922 modification of General
Relativity Theory. Jean's elder brother Henri was also a mathematician who made
important contributions to the field of algebra. Jean's misfortunes of health
are starkly underlined by the fact that Henri died as recently as 2008 at the
age of 104!
In his short lifetime Jean was able to compose about a dozen works, and this
CD from French label Timpani contains the entirety of his chamber works. In
the broadest terms, Cartan's music can be described as a neo-Classical product
of its times, but that does not even begin to do credit to its brilliance, imagination,
magnetism and pathos.
The four-movement First String Quartet immediately announces a precocious talent,
reminiscent in places, most notably in the outer movements, of Janáček,
whose two influential Quartets had appeared three or four years previously.
So short was Cartan's life that his Second Quartet, finished only four years
later, can be said to belong, in a real sense, to his maturity, such is the
advancement in language. Now in three movements, and decidedly more like Shostakovich
in character - at one point Cartan even seems to quote the 'DSCH' motif - there
is considerable tonal ambiguity, structural complexity, chromaticism and great
invention. Yet still the lines cohere aesthetically to produce a quite outstanding
chamber work that belongs in every quartet's repertory and is worth the asking
price of this disc on its own - kudos to Timpani and Stanislas for recording
both of these stunning Quartets. And what a loss to music Cartan's untimely
The Introduction and Allegro for wind quintet and piano is an upbeat, sunny,
almost arcadian work that naturally calls to mind Saint-Saëns, Poulenc
or Roussel. The piano is seamlessly blended with the winds, never being allowed
to dominate, and the results are delightful. The Sonatina for flute and clarinet
dates from the same time as the revision of the Introduction and Allegro, but
is more inward-looking and intimate. Poulenc again is the obvious model, but
the booklet notes rightly point up Stravinsky's influence, and Cartan sometimes
sounds on the verge of quoting from The Firebird or Petrouchka, only to change
his mind at the last moment.
The Stanislas Ensemble/Quartet have made numerous recordings in their 25-odd
years, most notably the series devoted to the chamber music of Cartan's much
older contemporary Joseph-Guy Ropartz - the third of three volumes of his string
quartets was approvingly received here
and the subsequent CD of trios here.
Their performance in the Cartan Quartets in particular are impressive, even
if their understanding of Cartan's très lent instruction for the
third movement of the First Quartet is très louche. The wind players
and pianist have less to do, but their contribution is also well presented.
The CD comes in an attractively designed digipak-type case, with two caveats:
the slot the booklet goes in is not made to last, and the choice of gold-grey
for the secondary font on a deep red background is frankly harebrained, rendering
some of the information all but illegible. There are interesting, detailed notes
by Jacques Tchamkerten, but the English translation, signed 'Jeremy Drake',
not only makes uncommon use of the comma, but is couched suspiciously unidiomatically
in places: would any native English-speaker really write "It is difficult to
perceive a veritable introduction", "before dying in deportation for resistance
activities" or "developing a creative activity"?
Sound quality is very good, clear and well-balanced. Breathing, reed and valve
noises are sometimes noticeable, but not too intrusive.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
What a loss to music Cartan's untimely death was.