Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) String Quartet in g minor, Op.10 (1893) [25:27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) String Quartet in F (1903) [27:57]
Jerusalem Quartet [Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler (violin), Ori Kam
(viola), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello)]
rec. 18-22 April 2017, Markus Sittikus Hall, Hohenems, Austria. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902304
I almost passed this by despite the eye-catching Debussy-centenary-themed
cover: after all, there are many very fine recordings of these two
quartets, together (mostly) or separately. From 50+ years ago, the
Supraphon pairing from the Vlach Quartet, which I bought the morning after hearing the
Ravel on a beautiful Summer evening in the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford,
remains my benchmark. It’s available for download or streaming only, but it
can obtained for as little as £3.19 and, though labelled ‘archive’, it’s
not to be written off even sound-wise.
To quote what I wrote in
Autumn 2017/1, I’m pleased to see that it retains its magic – a pair
of ripe and fulsome accounts, blending power and sensitivity, and it has
remained hitherto my version of choice, still sounding
well in digital form, alongside more recent versions such as that from the
Belcea Quartet (Warner – download only), the Takács Quartet (Hyperion,
Debussy with Franck Piano Quintet), Quatuor Ébène (Erato), the Dante
Quartet (Hyperion) and the Talich Quartet (La Dolce Volta).
I was about to write that the one snag is that the Supraphon offers short
value, with just the two quartets, but the new Harmonia Mundi is no more
generous. Nor is the 2012 Talich Quartet recording, which I also reviewed
and liked despite the irrelevant toy dog on the cover (La Dolce Volta
LDV08). The Alpha release of these two quartets from the Quatuor van Kijk
does add a short filler (reviewed alongside the Talich recording), but the
performances fall a little – not too far – short of the ideal. Stuart
Sillitoe mentions several other very fine recordings in his
Having come belatedly to this new recording, I find it the equal of the
others which I know, effectively recapturing the magic of that Summer
evening in the 1960s, albeit that I listened in less ideal conditions in
the hot July of this year. I’m not surprised to see as I tie up this review
that Presto have made it their recording of the week and that the BBC Music
Magazine singled it out as their choice of the month.
It’s all too easy to impress listeners with dreamy ‘impressionist’
performances of these quartets; the original LP sleeve of the Vlach Quartet
recording even encouraged that expectation with a fuzzy out-of-focus
black-and-white depiction of men in top hats. The best performances, however,
combine lyricism and strength and that’s true of the Vlach and Talich
recordings and of the new Harmonia Mundi, which even matches the words which
I’ve written above about the Vlach recording. I’m not even sure that I
share Stuart Sillitoe’s preference for this performance of the Ravel;
others have called it the other way, but for my money both
are very fine.
The Supraphon is now showing its age, though by less than I expected, but
the new recording is very good indeed, especially as heard in 24/96
download guise, the only way to obtain better-than-CD quality now that
Harmonia Mundi no longer offer SACD. As an introductory bargain, the 24-bit
is available for the same price as 16-bit from eclassical.com, a reasonable
$13.35. Their Talich download costs $13.51 (16-bit) or $16.21 (24-bit). UK purchasers
may be able to find the Harmonia Mundi, but not the Dolce Volta, less
expensively, especially after the initial period expires.
Prospective collectors now have an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Pushed to make my Desert Island choice, the new recording from the
Jerusalem Quartet might well be it, but I’d also want that Vlach download
– and not just for sentimental reasons.
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