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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor, L.85 (1893) [26:04]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F major, M.35 (1904) [28:49]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
String Quartet No. 12, Op. 252 (1945) [13:17]
Gustave SAMAZEUILH (1877-1967) 
Cantabile et Capriccio for String Quartet (1947) [9:37]
Joseph Calvet recalls his encounter with Ravel (in French) [1:52]
Calvet Quartet (Joseph Calvet, Jean André Champeil (violins), Maurice Husson (viola), Manuel Amédée Recassens (cello))
rec. August 1946, Stuttgart Staatstheater, South German Radio (Ravel and Debussy), November 1948 Paris, Studio RDF, Radiodiffusion Française (Milhaud and Samazeuilh). September 1972 (Calvet radio talk)
MELOCLASSIC MC4005 [79:43]

Founded in 1919 the Calvet Quartet rose to prominence in the early 1930s with a series of première performances and recordings that established the ensemble as one of France’s most eminent quartets. It broke up in 1940 with second violinist Daniel Guilévitch leaving for America in the nick of time, changing his surname to Guilet and enjoying renewed fame as an orchestral and chamber player. Violist Léon Pascal established his own quartet. With cellist Paul Mas also gone, Joseph Calvet reformed his group in 1944 with the ensemble heard in these 1946-48 radio inscriptions.

They revisit two of the earlier group’s greatest pre-war recordings, that now long-established pairing of Ravel and Debussy. The contours of the conception are very similar though it’s noticeable that in these post-war readings the slow movements are more relaxed than in the studio inscriptions. Whilst the corporate sonority of the re-established group can’t replicate that of the superbly responsive earlier line-up, it is still led by Calvet’s expressively lyrical and lithe playing. Acute rhythmic vitality is still there, Calvet ensuring that phrasing is agile and alive, and that the music’s full palette is evoked. The evocative richness of the Debussy finale hearkens back to the group’s heyday - so too the vividly projected pizzicati in the Ravel. And if the Ravel’s finale is not quite as vif as in 1936-37, it’s hardly lumpy. Still supple, subtle and vivacious this incarnation of the Calvet proves to have been very well drilled by its eponymous leader.

Milhaud’s delightful Quartet No.12 was dedicated to the memory of Fauré. Its lyricism is enhanced by an almost perfumed central slow movement, where Calvet’s playing is most affecting, and topped by a lithe and avuncular finale. The real novelty is Gustave Samazeuih, whose Cantabile and Capriccio the group premiered in 1947. This Paris radio performance in 1948 reveals as still intact Calvet’s quality of elfin floated tone and use of discreet but highly seductive portamenti. It helps that the work itself is so seductive – songful in the Cantabile and, in the separately tracked Capriccio, sporting dappled pizzicati à la Ravel. The refined chanson element is meat and drink to this ensemble. It’s back announced, somewhat to my surprise, by an American studio announcer. Was this broadcast for export? There is an interesting if brief two-minute interview (in French) with Calvet in 1972 when he recollects meeting Ravel.

The digipak houses an excellent booklet note and characteristically finely reproduced photographs. The studio recordings are of fine quality if just a bit boxy.

Despite the existence of the two great pre-war recordings of the Ravel and Debussy – which have been made available several times on CD – there’s real value to be had in tracing Calvet’s reformed and very different ensemble. It was just in time too, as illness forced him to disband the group one last time in 1950.

Jonathan Woolf



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