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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
String Quartet Op.10 in G minor [25:27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F Major [27:57]
Jerusalem Quartet
rec. 2017, Markus Sittikus Hall, Hohenems, Austria
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902304 [53:38]

Over the years there have been some very fine recordings of these two seminal works of the string quartet repertoire, with many of them pairing the two quartets together on a single disc, such as the excellent Belcea Quartet (EMI 574020) whose 2000 recording made their reputation as one of the finest of the new wave of string quartets. Not forgetting the Alban Berg Quartett (747347-2) or the Emerson String Quartet (445509-2) with both quartets offering a very good performance but ones which, for me, lack the sparkle and spontaneity of the Belcea’s. As for recordings of one of the quartets without the other, the Brodsky Quartet offer a thrilling all Debussy disc on Chandos (CHAN 10717), whilst on Capriccio, the Petersen Quartet’s recording of the Ravel is truly wonderful. So, the competition is tough for this newcomer, but the Jerusalem Quartet prove more than a match for many of these recordings.

The Debussy String Quartet was the work that announced him as a composer and, although it was written in 1893 when he was 31, could be said to be the herald of the twentieth century string quartet, with its originality proving quite shocking at the time of its première. This was due to the work's cyclical structure as well as Debussy’s use of colour especially in the way he uses pizzicato passages in the scherzo section. Here Debussy breaks free from the tight rules of classical harmony, with Pierre Boulez arguing that Debussy’s Quartet liberated chamber music from "rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics." The Jerusalem Quartet’s performance is excellent, it is one of the slowest, not that you notice, as they have a knack of bringing out the intense expressiveness of the work. It might not reach the heights of the Belcea’s, but it is not far behind with their performances being preferable to many.

The Ravel Quartet was composed in 1903, some ten years after the Debussy, and he was accused of producing a mere imitation of the earlier work, but as the composer pointed out in an interview “… don’t forget that my String Quartet was already conceived as four-part counterpoint, whereas Debussy’s Quartet is purely harmonic in design.” However, there are certain similarities between the two quartets, not least the use of pizzicato in the second movement, as well as the impressionistic style of the music. Strangely, since this CD is released as part of Harmonia Mundi’s celebration of Debussy’s centenary, the Jerusalem Quartet really shine in the Ravel. Here the performance is impassioned and nuanced producing a performance that is at least as good as the Petersen Quartet’s and better than the Belcea’s.

This disc is well worth investing in for the recording of the Ravel alone but add in the very fine recording of the Debussy and this disc is very attractive indeed. The playing of the Jerusalem Quartet is crystal clear throughout, no doubt helped by the acoustic and the excellent recorded sound, and this helps to bring out the very best of this music. The disc is presented, as with all discs in this new series of Debussy discs, in a cardboard sleeve inside a clamshell box along with a booklet containing useful and informative booklet notes.

Stuart Sillitoe



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