ADÈS Arcadiana DUTILLEUX Ainsi la nuit RAVEL String Quartet
Time was that Ravel’s String Quartet went with Debussy’s on disc the way Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto went with Bruch’s. The Belcea Quartet’s debut recording back in 2001 added Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit to that classic coupling, and now the first release by Quatuor Varèse – four graduates of the Conservatoire National in Lyon – pairs the Ravel and Dutilleux with Thomas Adès’s Arcadiana, in a wonderfully satisfying way.
The first thing to say is that Quatuor Varèse play exquisitely. For a quick taste of their sound, try the Ravel’s second movement from about 1'50". The quiet, searching interplay of the inner parts, the delicate suggestion of a waltz rhythm, the tangy bite of pizzicato violin – this is an ensemble that matches a vast range of tonal colour to a sensitive and vivid musical imagination. NoMadMusic has captured them in a near-ideal chamber acoustic: enough bloom to sound attractive but close enough to feel the physicality of fingers on strings.
And the interpretations are charged with a real sense of fantasy. These players’ Dutilleux is freer and more impulsive than the Belceas’, finding everything from the softest veils of sound to (in the second Nocturne) lurid showers of sparks. They hint at Adès’s pastiches and parodies rather than playing them up: their tender, hesitant way with Adès’s ‘Nimrod’-inspired sixth movement is very different from the Calder Quartet’s richer approach, but I found it genuinely moving; likewise the slight reticence that underlies the first three movements of their Ravel before finding release in an explosive finale.
Ignore the cover photo that makes them look like a bunch of nightclub bouncers and indulge the faintly loopy Franglais booklet-notes. This is a magical debut from a quartet that’s clearly going places.