6.Debussy and Gounod Quartets
Gounod composed his Quartet no. 3 in A minor near the end of his life, in 1890, when he was moving away from opera towards sacred music. He belonged to the generation of French composers before Debussy, and his Quartet in A minor falls squarely within the Viennese string quartet tradition. The work favours dialogue and clear succession of ideas over complex polyphonic development; this tendency, together with an impressive variety of colours and textures, gives the work an almost theatrical quality. Thus, the gripping opening Allegro stages tense exchanges between the instruments, while the ensuing Allegretto combines muted strings and cello pizzicato for an especially poignant effect. The Trio in the centre of the waltz-like Scherzo features a rustic drone not unlike the hurdy-gurdy, as well as a severe fugal section. A rousing pizzicato passage concludes the quartet in the final Allegretto.
Debussy’s only string quartet is also his first masterpiece. Like the famous Prélude à « L’après-midi d’un faune », which was written around the same time, the String Quartet in G minor is already recognisable as quintessential Debussy. Paul Dukas wrote a glowing review of the 1893 premiere, noting that the harmony, “although greatly daring, is never rough or hard,” and the melody “proceeds as on a sumptuous, skillfully designed carpet of strange colouring.” The structure of the work is cyclical, such that the graceful, serious opening theme recurs in every movement. Debussy’s mastery of classical form is clear, especially in the first and second movements (sonata form and scherzo and trio, respectively). But it is the composer’s wide palette of textures and timbres – loud pizzicato, rustling tremolo, lyrical solo lines, and more – that truly set this quartet apart, giving new life to the central theme each time it appears. Setting aside rigid conventions of harmony and form, Debussy appeals directly to the senses with nuances of sound, almost like nuances of colour in an Impressionist painting.
© Ariadne Lih, 2018
Fine Arts Quartet
The Fine Arts Quartet, “one of the gold-plated names in chamber music” (Washington Post), ranks among the most distinguished ensembles in chamber music today, with an illustrious performance history and an extensive legacy of over 200 recorded works. Founded in Chicago in 1946, the quartet is one of the elite few to have recorded and toured internationally for well over a half-century.
The quartet’s renowned violinists, Ralph Evans (prizewinner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition) and Efim Boico (former Concertmaster of the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim) have performed together for 35 years. They are joined by two eminent musicians: violist Gil Sharon (founder of the Amati Ensemble), and cellist Niklas Schmidt (co-founder of the Trio Fontenay).
Many of the Fine Arts Quartet’s latest releases have been selected for inclusion on Grammy Awards entry lists in the categories “Best Classical Album” and “Best Chamber Music Performance” and have received multiple awards and distinctions, among which are “Gramophone award winner” and “recording of legendary status” (Gramophone Classical Music Guide), “Key Recording/Top Recommendation” (Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music), “Editor’s Choice” (Gramophone Magazine), “Critic’s Choice” (American Record Guide), “BBC Music Magazine Choice”, “Recording of the Year” [3 times] (MusicWeb International), and a Grammy Award for producer Steven Epstein (Fauré Quintets with Cristina Ortiz). The quartet also received the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, given jointly by Chamber Music America and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. The quartet’s latest CD (Mozart) will be released by Naxos in the fall of 2018.
The Fine Arts Quartet’s members have nurtured many of today’s top young international quartets while teaching at the Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music in Milwaukee, as well as serving as guest professors at major conservatories in Paris and London, and participating in music festivals all over the world.
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