Debussy, Dutilleux, Ravel: String Quartet

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy,Dutilleux,Ravel
LABELS: EMI Debut
WORKS: String Quartet
PERFORMER: Belcea Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDZ 5 74020 2
Chief among many virtues possessed by the Belcea Quartet is the players’ youth: they formed in 1994 and are still in their twenties. They do not sound – as some quartets do – as if they have spent the last 40 years hawking around the same pieces of standard repertoire. From the first notes of the Debussy Quartet, one is impressed by the freshness and urgency of their playing. They play the piece not with the assumption that we have all heard it a hundred times, but as if it were a new discovery they were excited about and were desperate to make a case for. Consequently it lives: its colours are vivid and reveal subtle shades we have forgotten about if we ever saw them before.

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Between the Debussy and an equally striking Ravel Quartet, the Belcea demonstrates its versatility in Dutilleux’s quartet Ainsi la nuit…, where spectral sparseness and melodramatic expressionism are moulded into a coherent whole.

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Beyond its youth, the Belcea would not have notched up its impressive list of competition wins if its musicians didn’t play with exemplary intonation, and if each was not capable of magically traversing back and forth between foreground and background. The ensemble’s plan to record Brahms and Janácek instead of following the stale Shostakovich route is an exciting prospect and is certain to give rise to eager anticipation. The Sixties had the Quartetto Italiano’s famous recording; we are fortunate enough to have this from the Belcea. Christopher Wood