Giorgio Koukl | 22 NOV 2022
The well-known Takàcs Quartet has recorded a new Hyperion CD featuring three compositions for string quartet.
Including works by Ravel, Dutilleux, and Stephen Hough might be an intriguing combination at first sight, but it bears a lot of dangers. The strange choice to start the disc with the most recent composition and to finish it with Ravel should have been explained in some way in the booklet.
Let’s follow the chronological order of the composers in this review for better clarity.
With his 28 years, the young Maurice Ravel struggled to be recognized and appreciated during his studies at Paris Conservatory, hoping to finally obtain the Prix de Rome, the highest possible goal for a young French composer. Sadly, in four consecutive years, he never was able to reach this goal, probably due to the ultra-conservative ambient of his Alma mater and maybe also to the quite firm opposition of his teacher Gabriel Faurè.
His Quartet in F major has the classical four movements:
- Allegro moderato, très doux
- Assez vif, très rythmé
- Très lent
- Vif et agité
Ravel is working here with a tiny thematic cell, using it extensively in different forms throughout all four movements and creating such a real obstacle to all interpreters in terms of reaching enough variety in order to avoid annoying repetitiveness. While the Takàcs Quartet is perfectly intonated and definitely has all the necessary skills to be technically on top, at least in the slow movements, they partly fail to obtain the small dynamic and agogic differences that would have made listening to this music more interesting.
Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) certainly was an interesting composer, and his Ainsi la Nuit, written in 1976 for the Koussevitzky Foundation, is among his better-known works,
- Libre et souple – Nocturne
- Parenthèse I – Miroir d‘espace
- Parenthèse II – Litanies
- Parenthèse III – Litanies
- Parenthèse IV – Constellations – Nocturne II
- Temps suspendu
Well, this is the real playground for the Takàcs Quartet and certainly the highlight of the whole CD.
Harmonically daring, with sharp mood changes and using the whole array of string techniques, Dutilleux is never epigonal, boring, or lacking a logical sense of development. This is 20th-century music at its best. Here we can admire the overall musical capacity of all quartet members, their sense of proportion, and their control of dynamic range. Certainly, they are much aided in this task by wonderful recording quality, superior acoustics, and well-crafted mix.
The last composition, which is presented on the CD in the first six tracks, was written for this installment by the British pianist and composer Steven Hough.
One can vividly imagine the difficulty of such a project, writing music to be competing with Ravel and Dutilleux.
Mr. Hough has chosen to write six miniatures, each about 3-4 minutes long, playing with the idea of the well-known Parisian group of composers called “Les Six.” The single movements are:
- Au boulevard
- Au parc
- À l’hôtel
- Au théâtre
- À l’église
- Au marché
While the movement names are pretty evocative of the world of Poulenc, Auric, and Milhaud, the musical content is far less descriptive. The language is quite traditional and gets really interesting only in quick movements like the last one. The musicians are very committed to this music and give their best. Despite this effort, the overall impression remains somehow blurred.
While such an album is for specialists who enjoy well-played chamber music, it is nonetheless a well-crafted contribution to the string quartet repertoire and merits a recommendation. ■
- Takács Quartet: takacsquartet.com