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Alexis de CASTILLON (1838-1873)
String Quartet, Op. 3/1 (1867) [33:31]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, Op. 112 (1899) [32:34]
Quatuor de Chartres (Patrice Legrand (violin); Robert Aribaud (violin); Marc-Antoine Chomet (viola); Philippe Pennanguer (cello))
rec. April 2011, Château de Saint-Simon, La Ferté-Vidame, Eure-et-Loir, France
BNL 112965 [66:05]

Experience Classicsonline

The Quatuor de Chartres was formed in 1984. Although I have never come across them previously they have released a number of CDs. On this 2011 recording their programme is from the pens of French composers Alexis de Castillon and Camille Saint-Saëns who were close contemporaries.
The first work is de Castillon’s String Quartet, Op. 3/1. Born in Chartres, Castillon was from an aristocratic Languedoc family. He gave up a military career to concentrate on music and became a student at the Conservatoire de Paris. De Castillon in comparison to his compatriot Saint-Saëns wrote only a relatively small number of works including a handful of chamber scores. Composed in 1867, the three movement String Quartet was the composer’s first attempt at writing for strings. In the accompanying notes the author writes that the music “shows de Castillon’s real gift of inventiveness.” The twelve minute long first movement is densely written with a tiresome number of tempo changes. The intensely lyrical Adagio moto lento is pretty unmemorable and at almost fifteen minutes certainly outstayed its welcome. The Finale is a rather dreary affair despite its ethereal quality and an interesting violin cadenza. It’s certainly no undiscovered gem. I was, however, glad to have the opportunity to hear this rarely played quartet. No matter how well the Quatuor de Chartres play they cannot make music better than it is.
By comparison Saint-Saëns’ String Quartets No. 1 in E minor and No. 2 in G major are refined and inventive. That said, they need several plays before revealing their charms. The Saint-Saëns four movement String Quartet No. 1 from 1899 is a product of the composer’s full maturity, written when he was 64. The pastoral mood of the opening Allegro could have emanated from the pens of Howells or Delius. Serving as a Scherzo the second movement Molto allegro quasi presto has a fresh outdoor feel. The intense and heartfelt Adagio is melancholic with the first violin noticeably prominent. Taking the form of a Rondo the Finale marked Allegro non troppo has a squally exuberance with the conclusion particularly ardent and forthright.
Quatuor de Chartres comes across as well prepared and thoughtful. They perform this pair of French works with alertness and palpable sensitivity. They have been recorded closely by the sound engineers, with the cello standing out a touch too much for my liking. This is particularly noticeable in the louder passages.

There are three current accounts of the Saint-Saëns String Quartets No.1 and No.2 that I greatly admire. They provide very fierce competition. The recording by the Quatuor Viotti recorded in 1984 is the one to have for their high calibre playing and for their masterful penetration to the very heart of this music. They’re on Warner Classics Apex 2564 61426-2. I also remain impressed with the expressive and well recorded interpretations by the Medici String Quartet from 1997 at Bad Arolsen on Koch Schwann 3-6484-2. Recorded in 2009 at the Wittem Monastery Library, Netherlands the Fine Arts Quartet is in imposing form. Their dedicated and passionate accounts are on Naxos 8.572454.
Michael Cookson

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