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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F Major* [28:35]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
String Quartet No.1 in D Major† [28:52]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Romance from String Quartet No.1† [6:37]
Puertas Quartet (Ellie Fagg* (violin), Tom Norris† (violin), Julia Joyce (viola), Andrew Joyce (cello)
*/† First violins
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 11-13 January 2011
ATOLL RECORDS ACD214 [64:10]

Impressionist masterpiece though it is Ravel’s string quartet is unashamedly romantic in temperament. It's full of the most sumptuously gorgeous quartet writing of the twentieth century. The first movement is frankly intoxicating. Why do people need 'recreational' drugs when they can let themselves be ‘sent’ by music such as this. The opening of the second movement with its plucked strings can only raise a smile; this before a note of melancholy is introduced and is held for much of the central section until reverting to its marking of Assez vif, très rythmé. The third movement is another feast of the most melodious sounds and is played as slowly as its marking calls for - quite a profound experience. The last movement makes a complete contrast and jolts the listener from any reverie. He is pitched back into the real world for a concluding section that draws all the elements together in a perfectly judged finale.

Tchaikovsky’s first string quartet is wholly romantic in every way and from a time when that was what the essence of the string quartet was all about. No-one did it better or more convincingly than that poor troubled composer. The first two movements are heart-rending with a Russian folk melody woven into their very fabric. The third movement again sets Russian folk tunes but in a decidedly more upbeat Scherzo that is as lovely as it is exciting. The finale is a mixture of both sadness and happiness in a summing-up that is emotionally satisfying in a way that only a master such as Tchaikovsky could achieve.

Music seems to be the only medium in which people seem to be able express feelings at a young age that cannot be expressed by most people until much later in other ways. Rachmaninov was only 16 when he composed his first, sadly incomplete string quartet. The Romance is its slow movement. It shows that he must have known and understood Tchaikovsky’s music as well as having an innate ability in writing music for these four instruments. Perfectly balanced and ravishingly beautiful, it also manages to tug at the heart-strings in its atmospherically wistful way. His second string quartet was also left incomplete, both having only two movements each, both written early on and each showing such delights that it is genuinely sad that they were never completed.

The Puertas Quartet is made up of two married couples who met in London but now live 12,000 miles apart in London and New Zealand. They get together fairly frequently to play to appreciative audiences and this disc shows good reason for that. All the works here are played with a real feeling of love and respect and the three works complement each other extremely well. It was a nice touch for the husband and wife violinists to share the first violin positions. My only criticism is that the notes lack any information about the music. This cannot be excused simply because two of the works are well known. On the other hand the booklet wastes what little space there is on what instruments they are playing and the role the Fagg/Norris baby played in the recording. Additionally the artwork leaves much to be desired since the track-listings on the back are unreadable: grey on black - weird or what?

Steve Arloff
 



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