Debussy & Grieg String Quartets
Outstanding quartet playing. The first movement of the Grieg sets the tone; a performance combining precision (ensemble, tuning and rhythmic control spot on) and imagination, with continually varied sound and sophisticated use of rubato. I was particularly impressed by the tight, agitated main theme, the sweet and tender tone of the second subject, and the rainbow colours of the ponticello tremolando in the coda. As a whole, this Grieg bears comparison with the celebrated 1937 Budapest Quartet recording (available on RCA, 4/94) in the intense yet subtle way the different emotional shades are projected. The Vertavo don’t quite match the Budapest’s nostalgic drawing-out of the phrases at the end of the second-placed Romanze, but the whole movement is equally captivating – graceful and sensuous, with sharply sinister Allegro interruptions. The finale doesn’t attempt the high-speed controlled virtuosity of the Budapest, or the Petersen Quartet’s ferocious drive (Capriccio, 1/94). Instead, at a slightly slower tempo, the group succeed in characterising very clearly each detail, each change in texture.
The Debussy is equally good. Compared with the new Kuijken version I’d just been listening to (reviewed above) with its luminous sound and classical poise, this is a freer, more hands-on interpretation. Here, too, the Vertavo find just the right style and sound for every turn of phrase. The Scherzo has magical lightness, with wonderful pizzicato, the Andante’s final bars are beautifully dreamy and hazy – real musical impressionism – and in the finale, unfailingly expressive playing brings out fully the intensely emotional character. Not to be missed!'