Milhaud: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Milhaud
LABELS: Discover
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Arriaga String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: DICD 920290 DDD
Darius Milhaud’s first two string quartets provide a wonderfully enticing aural portrait of a prodigiously talented young composer finding his voice. The First Quartet, written in 1912, finds the twenty-year-old Milhaud already remarkably assured in the medium. The fingerprints of Debussy, Ravel and Fauré can be found throughout the score, although in spirit this (almost too) relaxed work is closer to the sound-world of Vaughan Williams.

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By the time of the Second Quartet a disquieting urgency can be found in Milhaud’s music. This is to some extent due to the emergence of polytonality as a mainstay of his compositional technique, although the outbreak of war across Europe must surely have played its part too.

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The Arriaga Quartet is capable of making a magnificently full-blooded forte on the one hand and a delicately flutey piano on the other. Unfortunately, the contrasts rarely go further, but resolutely remain at least two notches within Milhaud’s extensive dynamic range. A greater sense of abandon would also have been welcome in the closing pages of the first quartet. However, while the performances err on the side of caution, the Arriaga Quartet can be counted as a worthy advocate of these enjoyable works. Christopher Dingle