Magazine article Gramophone

Debussy * Ravel * Tailleferre: Debussy String Quartet

Magazine article Gramophone

Debussy * Ravel * Tailleferre: Debussy String Quartet

Article excerpt

Debussy * Ravel * Tailleferre

Debussy String Quartet, Op 10 Ravel String Quartet Tailleferre String Quartet

Stenhammar Quartet

Alba (F) [SACD]. ABCD431 (6T * DDD)

Like Debussy and Ravel, Germaine Tailleferre wrote only one string quartet. It began life in 1917 as a Sonatine for strings but only reached its definitive form two years later, by which time Sonatine had been dropped from the title. It's a startling work in many ways though not, I think, a masterpiece. The opening is very svelte, as a cool, neoclassical Modere' gives way to an almost balletic Intermede, more waltz than scherzo, which has been described as 'Ravellian', though the brief, uneasy trio at its centre owes more, perhaps, to the corresponding passage in Debussy's Quartet than to Ravel's own. The initial elegance, however, is brutally swept away in the ferocious saltarello finale, roughly the length of the first two movements put together, and a thing of violent syncopations, slashing sforzandos and garish polytonal clashes. The jolt is deliberate, and Tailleferre is clearly playing fast and loose with preconceptions of stylistic and emotional consistency. The downside, however, is a sense that you're listening to a sequence of disparate pieces, tenuously connected, rather than a work with a unified purpose.

Placing it alongside the Debussy and Ravel Quartets, however, the excellent Stenhammar Quartet have unquestionably done it proud. There's real lyrical warmth at the start of the Modere, as its themes are shuttled from instrument to instrument, and the Intermede is utterly enchanting in its grace and lightness of touch, before the brief incursion into darkness of the trio. …

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