Wigmore Hall Live: Ysaÿe Quartet

0 of 5 stars

String Quartet in G minor, Op.10
Three Pieces for String Quartet
Double Canon
String Quartet in E minor, Op.121

Ysaÿe Quartet [Guillaume Sutre & Luc-Marie Aguera (violins), Miguel da Silva (viola) & Yovan Markovitch (cello)]

Recorded at the Wigmore Hall, London – on 22 March 2005 and 27 April 2006

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2006
Duration: 69 minutes

Preceding Debussy’s String Quartet is several seconds of audience rustle and some isolated pizzicatos. The listener is immediately drawn into the world of live performance. The Ysaÿe Quartet is one of the most passionate and vibrant ensembles of its kind; yet, for all that, the musicians’ do not overwhelm the music. Repose and inwardness are also among the Ysaÿe’s qualities, and the whole is sustained by intensity. Here though, unfortunately, such artistic endeavour is compromised by the recording.

As interpreted by the Ysaÿe, Debussy’s String Quartet glows with colour and emotion. His only work in the genre is interestingly uncharacteristic; yet it’s not an ‘early’ work (he was 31 when he composed it). Neither watercolour nor impressionistic, the work communicates with feelings that can seem more Slavonic than French, an aspect that the Ysaÿe musicians emphasise (as recorded) and they also bring searching eloquence to the music, the slow movement especially. There is room though for more subtlety, again ‘as recorded’.

Fauré’s (also sole) String Quartet is a late work, one elusive and rarefied. Here it is too brightly rendered (yes, the recording). There is no doubting the musicians’ sympathy for this very personal, even private music – the long lines and depth of the central Andante are especially affecting. While the Wigmore Hall should be ideal for it, the recording goes against both the grain of the music and the venue it was played in. The sound, rather aggressive and edgy in fortissimos, and rather more ambient and treble-dominated than the Wigmore Hall actually is, seems to have been enhanced (in post-production?). There is a lack of depth to the sonority and the left-to-right ‘picture’ seems rather too wide; furthermore, the high transfer level mitigates dynamic contrasts.

Although similarly recorded, the Stravinsky items ‘survive’ better. The works are played without applause between them and are wonderfully characterised accounts – rhythmically incisive in the Concertino, tangy in the whimsical Three Pieces, and restrained and objective in the Double Canon.

With decided reservations over the recording quality, and wishing that the booklet’s annotation could have correlated performance dates to the works selected, there is no doubting the Ysaÿe Quartet’s vivid and soulful communication.

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