WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4
PERFORMER: Quatuor Ysaÿe
CATALOGUE NO: 440 369-2 DDD
When I reviewed the first disc in the Quatuor Ysaÿe’s Mendelssohn project here last June, the recently released complete set of his quartets by the Cherubini Quartet formed the obvious comparison. The Cherubini’s outstanding performances still live vividly enough in the memory to throw into relief the distinctive character of the French players as they continue their journey.
Having recorded the First, Second and Sixth quartets, the Quatuor Ysaÿe now turn to the Third and Fourth, which form the Op. 44/1 & 2. Both these quartets have virtuoso outer movements, which the Ysaÿe attack with characteristic high excitement and biting accents. They don’t let themselves off the hook for a second: in fact, for much of the time all four voices, and most of the subsidiary material, are subject to equal intensity. This is partly a question of recording balances, but mainly one of playing style.
Where the Cherubini (EMI CDS 7 54514 2) offer shade as well as light, relaxation as well as tension, song as well as argument, the Ysaÿe are unremitting. This somewhat eroding approach so over-dominates in these performances (particularly damagingly in the slow movements), that I’m afraid they lose one more star. Hilary Finch