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Debussy, Dutilleux, Ravel: String Quartets / Arcanto Quartet

Debussy / Ravel / Dutilleux / Arcanto Quartet
Release Date: 09/14/2010 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 902067   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyHenri DutilleuxMaurice Ravel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arcanto String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY String Quartet in g. RAVEL String Quartet in F. DUTILLEUX Ainsi la nuit Arcanto Qrt HARMONIA MUNDI 902067 (71:19)

Following its exceptionally impressive Brahms and Bartók releases, the Arcanto Quartet has struck gold again with its third disc. This foray into French repertoire is another tour de force of stellar Read more musicianship and technique, both collective and individual.

The Debussy receives a dream performance, of silken refinement and great subtlety of expression—a very French kind of animation and inflection of line, minutely attentive to nuances of dynamics, articulation, and tempo modification. Fortes are always luminous, airy; ensemble precisely weighted, and flawless in intonation (try the opening chordal passage—you’ll be hooked). Solo contributions are incredibly characterful where called for, as in the second movement, which explodes from the speakers with a dazzling vibrancy, color, and verve that really take the breath away.

The Ravel is every bit as good, a textural and coloristic feast, catching the score’s worlds of nocturnal enchantment and phantasmagoria to perfection. At the same time the outer movements have splendid momentum, dramatic panache, and volatility.

They are equally impressive in the high modernism of Dutilleux, ideally served in this darkly translucent performance.

The most obvious competition comes from the Juilliard Quartet (Sony), in an identical coupling of the three works—flexible, spontaneous, stylish, and idiosyncratic in sound with their trademark generous vibrato; in the Dutilleux, edgier, more brittle than the Arcanto. Other classic couplings of the Debussy and Ravel include the Emerson on DG (high polish, rigor, discipline, and burnished sonority); Quartetto Italiano on Philips Eloquence (exceptional color, vibrancy, and a heightened—Italian rather than French—projection of rhetoric and drama); Alban Berg on EMI (sumptuous, immaculate, and slightly impersonal). Another interesting recent addition to the Debussy discography comes from the Kuijken Quartet (Arcana), in an adventurous sojourn into modern-instrument territory: smaller- and tighter-toned, characterful but less flexible, their very sparing vibrato resulting in a rather austere sound, no match for the vibrant yet delicate hues of the Arcanto.

It doesn’t happen very often with repertoire as widely recorded as these quartets, but in this instance the newcomer goes straight to the top of the heap. Highest possible recommendation, and a strong contender for this year’s Want List.

FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings in G minor, Op. 10 by Claude Debussy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arcanto String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1893; France 
Quartet for Strings "Ainsi la nuit" by Henri Dutilleux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arcanto String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975-1976; France 
Quartet for Strings in F major by Maurice Ravel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arcanto String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1902-1903; France 

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