Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel – String Quartets – Quartetto Italiano (1967/2016)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192 kHz | Time – 56:31 minutes | 1,89 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: e-Onkyo | Front Cover | © Decca
Recorded: Theatre Vevey, Vevey, Switzerland, August 1965
It took French composers most of the nineteenth century to come up with a really good string quartet – Franck’s example in 1888. Even so, Franck’s German models – Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner – are pretty apparent. Debussy’s string quartet appeared five years later. Most of Franck’s followers hated it, which lets you know how radical the music must have seemed. While today we still see the lingering spores of German Romanticism in the work, it’s still the first string quartet that sounds French, rather than Teutonic. The Teutonicism comes from a certain harmonic cast, particularly in the first movement, and in the approach to form. Once the first movement has passed, the Franconia shows itself in the quasi-modal shape of most of the themes, and most obviously in the scherzo second and slow third movements, where we stray rather far afield from Wagnerian modulations and immerse ourselves in the parallel chord progressions so characteristic of Debussy in particular and musical Impressionism in general. The slow movement dares much with bare textures, interrupting tutti passages with one instrument singing the remnant of a song. Further, for those who think of Debussy as dopey and moonstruck, the intellectual and architectural power of the quartet hits just as hard as its beauty. Every theme derives from the first idea, and Debussy can ring an apparently endless supply changes – some that take you to the limits of intelligibility, others breathtakingly and beautifully simple. The latter impresses me the most, particularly in the slow movement, where the tempo slows to barely moving and the counterpoint reduces almost, but not quite, to hymn. Above all, one encounters even at this early date that kaleidoscopic, subtle musical “psyche” so prevalent in the late works: En blanc et noir, the Villon ballads, and the cello sonata, for example. Franck called Debussy’s scores “nerve-end music,” and although he probably meant it as a slap, he pretty much got it. This isn’t the Romanticism even of traders in the fantastic, like Hoffmann, Browning, Swinburne, or Poe, but very much a personality who revels in “unsettledness,” who needs neither resolution nor transcendence. Debussy remarked that he wanted to write music “without sauerkraut.” With this quartet, he got his wish.