Ravel • Debussy • Fauré

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COMPOSERS: Debussy; Faure; Ravel
LABELS: Surroundedby Entertainment
WORKS: String Quartet in F
PERFORMER: Guarneri String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SBE 1004-2 (distr. Vivante)

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If you know your groups, you will think ‘classic reissue’. Rather, it’s a new label’s coup: the players who formed the Guarneri in 1965 have been persuaded back to the studio by their former producer. He gives them superb sound, with just enough ambience to keep the intimacy intact, and they prove to have held on to their flair within a slightly more relaxed and spacious approach. It always was a robust quartet, so the Debussy suits it most. Its best things are the floating of the Russian-style melody in the slow movement, and the finale’s unstoppable gathering of momentum. A four-squareness about the work’s opening detracts a little from its sense of nervous energy, but it is more of a liability in the Fauré, where the even, steady flow minimises the contrasts between the three movements. The Guarneri seem to be playing from the top line rather than the inner workings, and they could use more expressive light and shade, especially at the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum. For Ravel they are technically brilliant and finely balanced, their approach sometimes rather hefty and forward. They have moments of great finesse, such as the subtle overlap of trio and scherzo, but they undermine their climaxes by starting from a fairly high level of tension. On the whole the release should please Guarneri followers, and it’s good to have Fauré as well as the standard Ravel-Debussy pairing. But there are better options, especially the Ad Libitum Quartet, a revelation in Fauré.

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Robert Maycock