Félicien DAVID (1810-1876)
String Quartet no.1 in F minor (1868) [25:25]
String Quartet no.2 in A (c.1869) [23:30]
Allegro ma non troppo (unfinished String Quartet no.4 in E minor) (1876)
Cambini-Paris Quartet (Julien Chauvin (violin); Karine Crocquenoy (violin);
Pierre-Eric Nimylowycz (viola); Atsushi Sakaï (cello))
rec. Atelier Cortambert, Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris, September 2010. DDD.
AMBROISIE AM 206 [56:18]
French composer Félicien David is a more or less forgotten name today
but this fine period-instrument recording by the Cambini-Paris Quartet makes
a good case for further exploration of his corpus of works. One or two of David's
operas survived for a while in the French repertoire, but he was also more interested
in instrumental music than many of his contemporaries. Many areas of his oeuvre
lie almost entirely unexplored: his four symphonies, numerous choral works and
dozens of songs, for example.
Although the accompanying booklet does not specify, these appear to be first
recordings. By coincidence, David's Third Quartet was recorded recently by the
French Mosaïques Quartet, released in 2011 with other chamber works by
David on Laborie Classique (LC12). A handful of other CDs of his music have
appeared over the last twenty years, beginning with an under-achieving performance
of his exotic and once-celebrated ode-symphony Le Désert on Capriccio
also reissued last year.
In his article on David for the New Grove Dictionary, musicologist Hugh MacDonald
writes rather snootily that "his music falls into the French tradition of being
agreeable diversion, strongly coloured but emotionally naive". Presumably that
judgement is based primarily on a reading of scores - certainly not with reference
to the persuasive case made here by the Cambini Quartet.
Founded only in 2007, the Cambinis play with pleasing technical facility, refinement,
enthusiasm and insight, and above all with a great sense of ensemble that places
clarity and attractively phrased communication at the focal point of their recital.
Their name reveals a predilection for the Classical period, and their repertory
consists not only of the obvious Mozart-to-Beethoven axis, but of Giuseppe Cambini
and other unjustly overlooked composers like the French Hyacinthe Jadin, their
sparkling recording of whose quartets on Timpani in 2010 was very well received.
Though French, and with a lifelong interest in the Middle East, where he travelled
widely with some fellow Saint-Simonians, David's String Quartets are very much
in the Germanic tradition. The title page of the Fourth Quartet bears the poignant
legend, "Last work of Félicien David". The composer knew he was dying
from tuberculosis and that this was his swansong; alas, he only had enough time
to complete the first movement. Like his other Quartets it is a serious and
rather conservative piece, with an intensity in the final bars that approaches
The First and Second Quartets were written just a few years earlier. Tightly
constructed four-movement works of considerable expressiveness, nostalgic lyricism
and imagination, they recall in the lighter, jauntier passages Haydn, as in
the final two movements of the F minor Quartet. In the darker episodes Beethoven
again sometimes looms, but more often Schubert - or more strictly speaking,
his contemporary and David's older compatriot George Onslow, whose own thirty-six
quartets of astonishing quality similarly await re-discovery by modern audiences.
The First and Fourth Quartets are in minor keys, but a wistful, valedictory
mood is never far away in any of these works - due no doubt to the fact that
David was already close to sixty when he wrote the First, and to death when
he began the Fourth. Nevertheless, there are numerous stretches of irresistible
energy, humour, elegance and luminescence. Such is the quality - and beauty
- of David's writing that it is easy to forget that this is forgotten music
by a neglected composer, rather than something from the pages of accredited
geniuses like Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Beethoven.
The studio sound is very good, well-balanced. Some breathing of the first violinist
is unfortunately audible, but hardly intrusive. The minimalist-look CD case
is of the digipak type. The booklet goes in a slot in the inside front cover,
but not one that will hold the page-laden booklet for long without tearing.
The French-English notes themselves are well written and substantial, with two
separate essays on David as well as a detailed analytic description of each
of the Quartets.
Really the only negative is the shortness of the CD - it is tempting to think
that the Third Quartet could have been squeezed on too. But there is surely
more to look forward to on Ambroisie-Naïve from the Cambini Quartet and
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Really the only negative is the shortness of this CD.