F DAVID String Quartets Nos 1, 2 & 4
Félicien David, an ardent devotee of the early-19th-century utopian Saint-Simonian social movement, upped and went to Egypt with the group in the early 1830s when it started to be persecuted by the French government. If these experiences fuelled his well-received ‘ode-symphonie’ Le désert (1844) and gave the boost to his career that he needed, the later string quartets from the 1860s show virtually no trace of the exoticism and magical landscapes with which Egypt had entranced him. The basis for all three recorded here – the F minor, A major and single movement of an incomplete E minor – is a generalised Viennese Classicism allied to a winning Romantic way with melody that has an attractive Italianate spirit to it.
Attractiveness is perhaps the keyword in this music. No complaints there, for David writes with grace and drama, with a fine ear for sonority and instrumental balance, and he knows how to construct a work that possesses both variety and cohesion. Maybe in the scherzo of the A major there are faint traces of his Egyptian fascination in the pizzicatos and chromatic lines but they disappear again in the unfinished E minor (No 4), a movement that mixes muscularity with delicacy and seems to have been the last thing David composed before his death in 1876. Playing on period instruments, the Quatuor Cambini-Paris combine verve and sensitivity in underlining the essential element of enjoyment that the music conveys.