Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
String Quartet in G minor, Op.27 (1878) [36:36] Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
String Quartet No. 4, Op.22 (1921) [27:58]
rec. early 1950s FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1166 [64:31]
The Pascal Quartet’s origins date back to the early 1940s when it was beginning to take shape. It emerged fully fledged after the war with the following personnel: 1st violin: Jacques Dumont; 2nd violin: Maurice Crut; viola: Léon Pascal; cello: Robert Salles.
Its founder was Léon Pascal, the viola player, from whom the ensemble took its name. Pascal was a member of the Calvet Quartet in the 1930s, and appears in their recordings made 1931-1938. The Pascal Quartet’s recordings began in the mid-1940s, and they represent some of the very best in the French performance tradition. I’ve long admired them, and two of their recordings stand out especially for me. Both date from 1955: Chausson’s Concerto for violin, piano and string quartet, with Yehudi Menuhin and Louis Kentner, and Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, with Lily Laskine (harp), Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute) and Ulysse Delécluse (clarinet). The two string quartets we have here date from the early 1950s and have been expertly transferred and re-mastered from well-preserved Concert Hall LPs.
Grieg composed his String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27 in 1878 when he was thirty-five. The work sits between an early student quartet which was lost and the third quartet which was left unfinished. In it he incorporates elements of cyclical design, weaving a theme from one of his own songs, the ‘Spillemænd’ (fiddlers) from his group of Ibsen settings, Op. 25, into the fabric. It makes an appearance in unison at the beginning of the first movement and returns in the finale. The composer employs some richly textured harmonies and bold modulations, creating a full-bodied, rich orchestral sonority. It surprises me that ensembles haven’t taken the work seriously enough.
The Quatuor Pascal do it proud, giving a convincing performance that tells of passion, melancholy and beguiling lyricism. It was a time of personal crisis for Grieg, and the opening chords are heart-wrenching and tragic. A nervous and restless undercurrent pervades the Allegro molto. The Pascals allow the lyrical lines to unfold naturally. In the Romanza, the lilting dance rhythms are done to perfection. In the finale, a buoyant saltarello with a spring in its step takes centre-stage, and it’s quite clear the players are enjoying every moment of it.
The five-movement String Quartet No. 4, Op.22 by Paul Hindemith is his most popular quartet, probably due to its directness in expression and style. The Quatuor Pascal gauge the cut and thrust of the work, with its contrasting moods, with true understanding and adept skill. The contrapuntal writing of the Fugato Sehr Langsam first movement is delivered with logical clarity. The second and fourth movements, which frame the calm slow movement, bristle with energy and gusto. An attractive finale sets the seal on a compelling performance and by the end you feel as though you’ve been on a musical journey of discovery.
As with many Concert Hall recordings, the acoustic is on the dry side, but with performances of this calibre it’s a price worth paying.