String Quartet in G minor
Ainsi la nuit
String Quartet in F
(Corina Belcea and Laura Samuel – violins, Krzysztof Chorzelski viola, Alasdair Tait cello)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2001
CD No: EMI Debut CDZ 5 74020 2
This is a notable addition to EMI’s excellent Debut series. The Belcea Quartet impress immediately with a very persuasive account of Debussy’s only quartet, music betraying external influences that is feeling its way to Debussy’s singular soundworld (Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune was but a year away).
Actually, it’s quite a journey from this string quartet to faune, for the Belcea vividly bring out Debussy’s kinship with Tchaikovksy and, especially, Borodin. Debussy’s Quartet is not a work that I’ve previously found too much in; it says something then for the Belcea’s insights that it has raised the work’s profile. The Belcea’s is real chamber music playing – a group that listens to each other, has mutual respect, and conveys a wholesome approach that doesn’t inhibit individual response. The Belcea also make a lovely sound, one that is warm, variegated, subtle and instinctively right for the music being played; in the Debussy – and generally – the foursome are masters of fulsome attack, rhythmic brio, songful lines and searching expression, all rendered with emotion, sensitivity and musical focus.
Scrupulous sound-blending and dynamic contrast also play a considerable part in defining the Belcea’s profile; ideal characteristics for Henri Dutilleux’s quartet completed in 1976 and lasting eighteen minutes or so. Its twelve sections might lead one to an expectation of structural fragmentation, yet for all Dutilleux’s concern with gesture, colour, atmosphere and aphoristic comment he is working to a larger form, one fully appreciated by the Belcea Quartet who lead the listener through Dutilleux’s often-exquisite nocturnal exploration to a real sense of culmination.
Ravel’s first movement is sweetly lyrical, but not cloying; I do though find it a tad restless, verging on the episodic, with some middle- and lower-frequency details too prominent. The music though is alive with feeling. The pizzicato-dominated scherzo goes at quite lick, but with a real snap and buoyancy; the trio enters a half-lit world very effectively. The intimacy that informs Debussy’s slow movement similarly inhabits Ravel’s – both movements report the Belcea’s capacity for depth of utterance.
The recording is superb in its presence, perspective, tonal warmth, lucid detail and natural balance.
Read Duncan Hadfield in conversation with the Belcea Quartet’s violist, Krzysztof Chorzelski