Like his compatriot and fellow impressionist Ravel, Debussy only visited the string quartet genre once, early in his career. Yet his Quartet in G minor stands not only as one of the highlights of his oeuvre, but also as one of the most important contributions to the string quartet literature. Stravinsky wrote infrequently for string quartet, and used the medium largely for experimental purposes. On the other end of the spectrum is Gabriel Fauré, who, like Debussy, composed but one string quartet. However, Fauré's Quartet in E minor was his final composition before death. These three make for a fascinating, well-thought-out program visiting three major composers who wrote sparingly in this genre, but still managed to produce significant and lasting works.
The Ysaÿe Quartet, heard here in a live performance in London's Wigmore Hall, not only does a splendid job of choosing the program, but of executing it, as well. The Debussy is free and flowing, and the cyclical nature of the work is well articulated for the listener. The Fauré is very intimate and sensitive, with an appropriately contrasting sound to the more impressionistic Debussy. Despite these two very strong performances, it is in the set of Stravinsky pieces that the Ysaÿe Quartet seems to truly flourish. The sound here is extremely powerful, and the clear recording quality gives listeners occasional satisfying bursts of production noise and string snaps. This album is highly recommended as a first recording for any of these pieces, as well as for fans of the highly musical Ysaÿe Quartet.