String Quartet in F
Maurice Ravel, 1904
peformed by the Daedalus String Quartet on "Sibelius, Stravinsky, Ravel"
So this is the first time I've reviewed something on this blog that's been released very recently, but I had to make an exception for this marvellous disc. The Daedalus String Quartet are just phenomenal - I've heard them in concert several times, and often wondered how their energetic, deeply studied, passionate, dramatic playing would come across on disc. Well now I know - and it's a wonderful transition for them into the world of recordings.
I've said here before that I prefer live performances to recordings for a thousand reasons, but it's great to hear a disc like this one, in which (1) the personality of the group really comes out, (2) the pieces of music are represented with scintillating performances that you want to listen to over and over, and (3) the recording serves as a "calling card" to get you out to the next live show. I don't think there are many chamber groups that can rival this one, and that's not praise I dish out lightly. So while listening to this CD doesn't bring me to the verge of tears (I'm not ashamed to admit more than one concert of theirs has done just that), there's no doubt that this is playing at the highest level, interpreting some great music.
I hadn't heard the Sibelius quartet before this, and it's a beautiful piece that I want to hear more of. The Stravinsky "Three Pieces" is a classic, and is stunningly played. But I really want to talk about the Ravel quartet here.
Quite simply, this is one of my favorite string quartets ever. I dream of writing music like this. Deep, gorgeous, playful, balancing the raw and the calculated. This is music that sweeps you along, and pauses to reflect at just the right moments, music that has a humanity that is so personal as to be near-harrowing, and a rhetorical brilliance that serves to show it off.
And this performance. Well I don't even know how if I can find words, when it comes down to it (it's like dancing about architecture, after all). Listening to this recording showed me things about the music that I never knew were there. And not just little things, but tremendous things that make the whole quartet mean something different to me than it ever did. They play with a propulsion and grace that floors me, and the fluid, ever-shifting relationships among the players is part of what's genius here. There are these big overarching connections among the movements that come across so clearly (yet not emphasized in an "obvious" way). I think that this piece is a perfect match for the ensemble, frankly. I can't think of it being done better.
Yes I am waxing rhapsodic, but this deserves it. Give a listen.