Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky

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COMPOSERS: Debussy,Ravel,Stravinsky
WORKS: String Quartet; Three Pieces for String Quartet; Concertino; Double Canon
PERFORMER: Alban Berg Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 67550 2 Reissue (1984, 1986)
These dark, nervous, sinewy performances will surprise listeners conditioned to think of Debussy and Ravel’s string quartets as wistful, fragile, watercolour impressions – strong emotions kept at a decent distance. Perhaps they strain the point on occasions – the big pizzicato chords at the start of Ravel’s finale sound like repeated hammer-blows; and don’t expect the Italian Quartet’s suave pianissimos. But there are many other places where the power, even the ferocity are confirmed by the score: the accents that launch Debussy’s Quartet are often toned down, even by the generally excellent Italians; not here though – and yes, the climax of the first movement of the Ravel really is marked fff. What makes it all convincing is the control – technically, and in the way musical paragraphs are shaped. It gives the interpretation a tremendous inner authority, and the depth of feeling in the slow movement of the Ravel comes as a very welcome surprise – as though it’s always been there, latent in the music, but never released like this before. The Stravinsky pieces, too, are startlingly vibrant – not the dull exercises they often seem, and an illuminating coupling for the two French quartets. Stephen Johnson