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Claude Debussy: String Quartet, opus 10 in G Minor
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit
Maurice Ravel: String Quartet in F Major

Arcanto Quartet: Antje Weithaas (violin), Daniel Sepec (violin), Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Jean-Guihen Queyras (violincello)
Recording: Teldex Studio Berlin (October 2009) – 71’19
harmonia mundi #902067 – Booklet in French with English and German translations

They met, they played and they conquered. While performing chamber music with one another and in varying combinations over the years, it was a likely progression that the Arcanto Quartet would emerge. These four fine musicians not only share their love for classical music, but also retain a deep and special friendship.

Founded in 2002, the Arcanto Quartet, comprised of Antje Weithaas, Daniel Sepec, Tabea Zimmermann and Jean-Guihen Queyras, is a recognized name throughout Europe, having performed in some of the most distinguished concert halls. Plans to bring a greater international awareness to the group will commence when the group tours North America in the fall. Their successes have also been catalogued with new CD releases featuring the music of Béla Bartók and Johannes Brahms.

This recording has a sharply focused subject: French composers’ rarefied entrée into the genre of string quartets. Although quartets (in general) are strongly aligned with composers of an Austro/Germanic origin, it’s refreshing to find Arcanto Quartet flushing out scores of a recordable nature that don’t fit a predictable mode.

The opening music begins with Claude Debussy’s opus 10 in G Minor that can be compared to looking under a microscope in melodic detail with ebbs and flows in the first movement that is trademark Debussy. While the sonata form begins and ends the piece, the second movement, Assez vif et bien rythmé, has unbridled stints of exacting pizzicato that roll along with vibrant energy. Familiar to many is the oft performed Andantino, doucement expressif (many times performed separately), with its brisk interpretation and expressive qualities that is both pleasing and emotionally somber in tone. The final movement makes its way to the listener with arresting and distressed intonations.

Henri Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (literally translated, [Thus (at) night] ), is a spiritual awakening of discordant notes and alarming unpredictability. It’s as if we’ve returned to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone or Paddy Chayefsky’s Altered States in a very literal sense of the word. The impeccable focus the Arcanto Quartet places on the details becomes a journey into nocturnal uncertainty. It exudes uneasiness, tension and power all at the same time. It is masterfully delivered.

More akin to Claude Debussy is Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, bearing familial form and structure, yet Ravel exhibits a distinction that cannot altogether be compared to his predecessor. The Arcanto Quartet elicits pensive and wondrous lines that soar with the greatest of ease that are followed by sparkling pizzicato in Assez vif, très rythmé fashioned in a flavorful Iberian flair. We hearken back to Ravel’s famous Daphnis et Chloé and its slower movements that parallel the third section, only to find momentum picking up great speed in Vif et agité with unrelenting anxiousness and agitation.

The CD booklet is appropriately covered with one of Maximilien Luce’s Neo Impressionistic pieces, a fitting tribute to the artist but also a fitting compliment to showcase the music. This harmonia mundi recording of the Arcanto Quartet is polished and has impeccable clarity. As always, the attention is in the details, and on two fronts the Arcanto Quartet and harmonia mundi exceed all expectations.

Christie Grimstad




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