Ravel • Fauré

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COMPOSERS: Faure; Ravel
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Ravel • Fauré
WORKS: String Quartet in F
PERFORMER: Ad Libitum Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554722

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The Ad Libitum was formed in Romania 12 years ago and has been winning international prizes ever since. Among its mentors it lists the Amadeus, Fine Arts and Juilliard Quartets, though it plays in its own long-breathed and lyrical way. The leader has a vibrato which at first sounds slow and large, but he controls it carefully and you soon stop noticing. The viola is particularly eloquent. Speeds are steady and well integrated, allowing full space for a quietly imaginative response to detail, delivered with fine tuning and balance. It sounds as if these players were born to play this repertoire. It’s rare to hear so much feeling without fuss and bluster. Ravel’s whispering and murmuring accompaniments have atmosphere and vitality. They keep the slow movement intense and concentrated at a very slow pace, and find a natural rhythmic energy in the finale’s five-in-a-bar passages. In short, they are the benchmark successors to the Quartetto Italiano, whose lucid recording has held the spot for an unlikely 35 years. Even the acoustic is ideal, intimate with a little background ambience. In the less crowded Fauré field, the Ad Libitum Quartet takes over from the Miami, thanks to a sustained capacity for playing through the barlines which deals fluently with Fauré’s regular patterns and repeated rhythms, the cause of many a plodding performance. If you ever thought those traits cramped his melodies, hear this. The first two movements proceed in tempo as successive waves of emotion, and the finale attains the lightness that Fauré evidently wanted.