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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Landscape (1915) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
© The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania, USA / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67759
Recording details: March 2009
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: January 2010
Total duration: 17 minutes 34 seconds

'The Dante Quartet give a full-blooded performance, with no false delicacy … the transition to the central section of the scherzo in Ravel's quartet fades to a whisper, as preparation for the sublime dream-world ahead' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The shifts of light and shade in Debussy's String Quartet are ear-catchingly etched in by the Dante Quartet … Ravel's Quartet is ushered in with an ethereal calm that nevertheless has sufficient fibre to sustain the first movement's burst of energy. The quiet musing of the slow movement is set in dramatic contrast with the fiery finale' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The two outstanding masterpieces of the genre by French composers … the Dantes are one of the finest newish quartets based in Britain … they are alive to every nuance of these ever-fascinating works' (The Sunday Times)

'A stroke of programming genius … the Dantes make the oddball central movement of Ravel's String Quartet resonate beautifully and offer an unusually tender, otherworldly account of the Debussy' (Classic FM Magazine)

'You will experience in the group's playing some of the most exquisite gradations between dynamic markings you've ever heard … that is just one example among hundreds that make this the most expressive reading I've ever heard … an award-deserving recording … this receives the highest recommendation possible' (Fanfare, USA)

'One of the UK's finest quartets. They find all manner of shading and delicacy in the Debussy; their Ravel is a miracle of feather-light tone and seamless phrasing … for sheer refinement, sweetness and unanimity of purpose these performances strike me as exceptional' (Financial Times)

'This is magical wonderland music, with the many available versions no competition' (Liverpool Daily Post)

'Rarement un quatuor a su faire preuve d'une telle souplesse de discours et d'une telle légèreté instrumentale; les Dante sont un soliste ou un orchestre, mais on oublie qu'ils sont quatre. Au-delà de cet excellent travail de quatuor, ils proposent une palette de couleurs étonnantes, jouant avec des camaïses d'une subtilité incroyable … rien que pour le Debussy, un choc, un vrai' (Classica, France)

Violin Sonata No 2 in G major
1923/7; dedicated to Hélène Jourdan-Morhange

Allegretto  [8'17]
Blues: Moderato  [5'20]

Other recordings available for download
Alina Ibragimova (violin), Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For both Debussy and Ravel, originality was important: Debussy’s motto was ‘toujours plus loin’ (‘ever further’) and Ravel was fond of exclaiming about his own discoveries that ‘personne n’avait fait ça’ (‘nobody has done that before’). If Ravel’s Quartet is to some extent a homage to Debussy’s, there are enough differences between the two works to make charges of plagiarism untenable. Similarly, whereas a superficial glance at the two men’s violin sonatas of 1923–7 and 1917 reveals a pair of three-movement works in G major, they are in fact concerned with utterly different materials and techniques.

Ravel said that his aim was to explore the basic incompatibility of violin and piano, and this lends an uneasy quality to much of the music. The long melodic line that starts the first movement looks, on paper, ‘romantic’. But Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, the violinist to whom he dedicated the sonata, felt it was suited rather to an oboe or a clarinet and spoke of the ‘indifference’ it requires. In any case it is soon interrupted by an angry, snapping little phrase in the piano’s left hand—‘You needed to hear Ravel, with his nervous fingers rather square at the ends, attacking this passage!’

In the central ‘Blues’, Ravel gave vent to his enthusiasm for jazz, as in the opera L’enfant et les sortilèges and the two piano concertos. He wanted the opening piano chords to sound like the plucking of metal strings and the instrument to maintain an implacable rhythm, against which the violin can indulge in freer slides and wailings. On his American tour in 1928, he used this movement to try and convince the critics that jazz was the way forward for American music, and couldn’t understand why they insisted in regarding it as unrespectable. Possibly they were aware of the undertow of pain in the movement. If so, the unrelenting finale only confirmed that this was not a typical work of the Silly Twenties. An earlier version of this movement had been more lyrical but, according to Ravel, not right for the work … and so ended in the fire. The American audiences did not know that Ravel was paying them a compliment by way of emulating Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote of the climax to his poem The Raven: ‘Had I been able, in the subsequent composition, to construct more vigorous stanzas, I should, without scruple, have purposely enfeebled them, so as not to interfere with the climacteric effect.’ Are beauty and truth synonymous, as Keats maintained? Or can energy and virtuosity be enough? Whatever the answer, for Ravel, as for us, the apparently effortless confidence of the String Quartet must have seemed a long way in the past.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2010

Other albums featuring this work
'Ravel: Complete music for violin & piano' (CDA67820)
Ravel: Complete music for violin & piano

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