Leipziger Streichquartett / Marie-Pierre Langlamet

Debussy: String Quartet; Fauré: String Quartet; Caplet: Conte Fantastique

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The Leipziger Streichquartett, founded in 1988, is one of the most prestigious European string quartets, with over 50 recordings, including complete Schubert and Mendelssohn cycles. In the three French quartets recorded here, they emphasize the works lyrical, soft-hued qualities. This approach is most effective in the Fauré, which even in its faster movements has the quality of a gentle reverie. The Leipziger plays with warmth, fluidity, and limpid tone, bringing out the sweetness of the Fauré; the Andante is especially lovely. The story on which Caplet's Conte Fantastique, for quartet and harp, is based, Poe's grim "The Masque of the Red Death," demands a more dramatic approach. Caplet doesn't quite pull off the weighty shift from the frivolity of the ball scene to the devastation wrought by the Red Death, and he perplexingly ends the piece on a major chord. The piece is probably best experienced as absolute music, without much thought given to the specifics of its scenario, and on those terms the performance is fully successful -- graceful and elegant. The brief section marking the entrance of the Red Death is in fact chillingly stark, although Caplet doesn't sustain the mood for long. The Leipziger doesn't bring the necessary punch to the Debussy quartet for it to be fully effective. The first movement, marked Animé et très décidé, is animé, but not très décidé; the performance lacks the ferocity the opening demands and doesn't set up the contrast with the lyrical middle section. In the Andantino movement, though, the Leipziger's approach fits perfectly, and the performance is rapturous and radiant. MDG's sound, as always, is wonderfully realistic and balanced, with a great sense of presence.

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