This is an original coupling on disc – Debussy’s sole quartet is nearly always paired with Ravel’s ‐ but also a natural and
pleasing one, serving to illuminate two lesser-known string quartets with an earlier masterpiece of the genre. Szymanowski’s music is saturated with the influence of the
two French composers, but his voice is recognisably his own, whether in the three opulent symphonies, the elusive pianocycles, the opera King Roger that is his masterpiece, or these two string quartets, both composed in 1927.
Even so, it is also not difficult to hear an affinity with Bartok’s experience, particularly in the Second, where the instrumental language is more experimental, in the employment of trills,
ground rhythms, percussive chords, spices that thicken the original sap, never resorting to mere quotations but, as in
Bartok, using rhythmic cells as kickstarters for the engine of creation. The First Quartet is much lusher, recalling the endless singing lines of the First Violin Concerto and more obviously looking back to the Impressionism of Debussy, though Debussy’s own quartet dates from a pre‐Impressionist period when he was just beginning to formulate his own language. In the same year as the quartet, 1892, he began to write Prélude a l’aprèsmidi d’un faune and first saw Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama, Pelléas et Melisande, of which he would produce his own operatic version a decade later. The quartet itself is endlessly satisfying, and any fine new recording has its own things to say.
The Quartetto Prometeo is an Italian ensemble founded in 1998, and now with several albums to their name, including
Hugo Wolf’s complete music for string quartet (BC94166), which contains ‘an illuminating interpretation of the String Quartet that is both athletic and elegant, luxuriating in the work's warmth but also plunging fearlessly into its icy depths.’ (MusicWeb International) They have forged a creative partnership with one of today’s leading Italian composers, Salvatore Sciarrino, which has resulted in commissions and a CD of his famously
refined and technically challenging music.
This new recording presents an unusual pairing of the complete string quartets by Szymanowski and Debussy.
Szymanowksi is one of Poland’s most famous composers. Influences on his style are many (Bartók’s percussive and motoric drive, Ravel’s coloristic sonorities) but he found his own personal language, lush, opulent, rich and sometimes exotic, always expressing a deep emotional content.
Debussy’s string quartet dates from his early years, a beautiful and romantic work, the French answer to Wagner’s richly chromatic language.
The Quartetto Prometeo is one of Italy’s finest string quartets. Their recording for Brilliant Classics of the string quartet by Hugo Wolf received excellent reviews: “an illuminating interpretation of the String Quartet that is both athletic and elegant, luxuriating in the work's warmth but also plunging fearlessly into its icy depths.“ (MusicWeb International).