The Quatuor Varèse performs Adès’s Arcadiana, Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit and Ravel’s String Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Ades,Dutilleux,Ravel
LABELS: No Mad Music
ALBUM TITLE: Adès • Dutilleux • Ravel
WORKS: Adès: Arcadiana; Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit; Ravel: String Quartet
PERFORMER: Quatuor Varèse
CATALOGUE NO: NMM 033

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This is a delectable programme from the Quatuor Varèse. The glimmering dreamscapes of Adès’s Arcadiana, infested with ghosts of music past, find a clear resonance with the scintillating mechanisms of Dutilleux and Ravel. This Arcadiana is exquisitely detailed, with an edge-of-silence delicacy in the first, fifth and final movements that is true to the score. Yet, when compared with the Danish Quartet’s living-breathing performance (see Chamber Choice) one feels here that the work is laid out on the operating table, precisely dissected but anaesthetised.

Arcadiana’s seven scenes owe a clear debt to Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (1976) which fares better in the Varèse’s hands, with just the right mercurial flow of energies. The two nocturnes suggest a teeming moonlit world, while four ‘parentheses’ hurl us into cosmic force fields of antiphonal drama. The players switch between the intriguing night scenes with confidence and supple vigour, attention to timbral colour matched by impressive rhythmic fire. Ravel’s sensual melody falls like a balm after Dutilleux’s inter-planetary sports, but the Varèse tease out the strong connections between the composers in pin-sharp articulation and a palette of enormous range. This is a wonderfully refined performance, but, again, a touch over-reverent. Detail in the scherzo comes at the expense of dynamic flow, and though the vif bristles, it never snarls.

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Helen Wallace