Debussy String Quartet, Op. 10; Premier Trio
Here are the first fruits of the Brodsky Quartet’s 40th-anniversary alliance with Chandos: an original and revealing Debussy coupling and a collection of encores with a difference. The Debussy coupling defies all rivals. Where usually the popular String Quartet and the youthful Piano Trio, written when the composer was only 17, are generally yoked with works involving similar forces, this one gives a special insight into the composer.
The disc opens with the String Quartet in an exceptionally warm and sympathetic reading, with flexible rubato giving the impression of performers in love with the music, and continues with the Piano Trio. This may be a lightweight work but it is a remarkable example of the young composer’s skill. The Brodsky Quartet call on Jean-Efflam Bavouzet to join them in making clear that, though the teenage Debussy had not fully developed his distinctive style, it is far more than simply a derivative work. Though there are many influences in the first movement, notably from Delibes, there are hints of the highly original composer to come, and the pizzicato writing and jaunty anapaestic rhythms of the second movement show a remarkable gift for fresh invention.
The Deux Danses of 1904, written for the short-lived chromatic harp, are here transcribed for the conventional pedal harp with the addition of a double bass to the ensemble, and the disc closes with an effective transcription by the quartet’s viola player, Paul Cassidy, of the piano Rêverie. Altogether a satisfying and unique Debussy coupling, superbly played.
‘Petits-fours’ is just as cleverly devised: where most such collections offer a mixed bag for you to select at will, this one offers a satisfying sequence when played end to end. The opening brings a Spanish section, followed by three Elgar items. That in turn leads nicely into one of Dvo∑ák’s popular Humoresques, deliciously pointed. Mendelssohn’s ‘On Wings of Song’ leads into Godowsky’s Alt-Wien, totally charming. Three of Schumann’s Kinderszenen with piano (Philip Edward Fisher) lead into the seventh of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, before an arrangement of the ‘Blues’ movement from Ravel’s Violin Sonata, totally idiomatic in its pointing. Cunningly, the sequence ends with one of the gentlest numbers, Debussy’s song ‘Beau soir’. Cassidy is again responsible for most of the arrangements in the sequence.
What is so striking about the playing of the Brodsky Quartet throughout is their brimming love for the music, with some ravishing shading down to the most hushed pianissimos. All this is caught in wonderfully rich and transparent sound, a credit to the Chandos engineers.