Quatuor Ardeo

Koechlin: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2

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Koechlin: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 Review

by Blair Sanderson

Admirers of the string quartets of Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel will be happy to discover the refined string quartets of Charles Koechlin, a contemporary of those composers who wrote in a rather similar vein. These attractive chamber works, like the rest of Koechlin's oeuvre, are quite obscure and had been unduly neglected until the Ardeo Quartet chose to record them for its debut CD on Ar Re-Se. The String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 51, is dated 1911-1913, though it appears to have gestated since 1902, and the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 57, was mostly composed between 1911 and 1916, though its sketches show some material going back to 1909; both works therefore partake of musical styles developed between fin de siècle Impressionism and the later innovations of Erik Satie and Les Six, but these works reveal a stronger emphasis on the former. The sweet, placid music that flows in both quartets is balanced by some jaunty, folk-like elements and occasional flirtations with changing time signatures and polytonality, but the calm atmosphere of these quartets is largely undisturbed by the encroachments of modernism. The Ardeo Quartet demonstrates great technical control and coolness of expression in these lucid performances, which conceal many challenges behind appearances of simplicity and artlessness; indeed, Koechlin was a skilled orchestrator, and his special string effects are actually quite demanding, even though they may seem effortless in this ensemble's hands. The sound of this recording is quite close-up and detailed, so every note can be heard clearly and the group's warm and vibrant tone is fully captured.

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