Philips - 1 LP - 835 361 - (p) 1967
Philips - 1 CD - 420 894-2 - (c) 1988

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10

26' 34"
- Animé et très décidé 6' 23"

- Scherzo (Assez vif et bien rhythmé) 3' 55"

- Andantino, doucement expressif 8' 36"

- Très modéré - Très mouvementé et avec passion - Très animé - Très vif
7' 40"

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

String Quartet in F major
29' 38"
- Allegro moderato 8' 33"

- Assez vif, très rhythmé - Lent - Tempo I
6' 32"

- Très lent 9' 03"

- Vif et agité 5' 30"

- Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, violino
- Piero Farulli, viola
- Franco Rossi, violoncello


Luogo e data di registrazione
Théâtre Vevey, Vevey (Svizzera) - 11-14 agosto 1965

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Tony Buczynski

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 835 361 | 1 LP | (p) 1967

Prima Edizione CD
Philips | 420 894-2 | 1 CD - 56' 36" | (c) 1988 | ADD


The string quartets of Debussy and Ravel were, in both cases, the first chamber works written by the composers. In their subsequent careers, Ravel was more consistently productive in this field than Debussy who, after writing his quartet in 1893, composed no more chamber music (apart from a few small pieces for wind instruments and piano) till the great series of chamber sonatas produced during the last four years of his life. Ravel, on the other hand, followed the quartet of 1902-03 with the Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet, and string quartet (1905-06), the three Mallarmé songs for voice and chamber ensemble (1913), the Piano Trio (1914), the Cello Sonata (1920-22), the Violin Sonata (1923-27), the Chansons madécasses (1925-26), and a couple of smaller pieces.
Thus it is easier to think of Ravel than Debussy as a chamber-music composer. The most valuable part of Ravel's output is his chamber music and his piano music; whereas with Debussy, apart from the centrally important piano music, orchestral and operatic work make a greater contribution. For all that, the String Quartets play a similar part in their composers' development. Both were presented to the public shortly before the composers began to gain general acceptance. Both represent the stage of early maturity as distinct from youthful work. The Ravel is perhaps closer to the latter category than the Debussy, and certainly by the time of its composition Ravel had had much less success in terms of offcial academic recognition than Debussy when he wrote his Quartet: In 1883 Debussy was runner-up for the highest prize awarded by the Paris Conservatoire, the Gran Prix de Rome, and in 1884 he won it with the cantata L'Enfant prodigue; but though Ravel won the second priz in 1901, he was officially unsuccessful in 1902 and again in 1903; and later, in 1905, the notorius academy failed him on the basis of the preliminary competition.
As far as the two composers' teachers were concerned, the String Quartets elicited parallel reactions. Franck, in whose class Debussy had been for a short time, described his former pupil's composition as "de la musique sur les pointes d'aiguilles,” which means something like "nerve-end music." Though he no doubt meant this as a condemnation, it looks to our hindsight more like accurate if puzzled semi-approval, for this is not at all a bad description of Debussy's already highly original style. Ravel dedicated his Quartet to his master Fauré, but the gesture won little in the way of approval - Fauré described the last movement in particular as “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure".
Apart from the academic doubts, contemporary criticism came out fairly quickly in favor of Debussy's Quartet; for Ravel, ironically enough, it was not till his repeated slights from the Conservatoire that the critics abandoned their earlier coolness and moved to his pupport. The two composers themselves were still on excellent terms with each other. "Only since hearing L'après-midi d'un faune have I known what music is,” Ravel once declared; and about Ravel's Quartet Debussy wrote: "In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet." When the friendship between them was broken, it was not because of any personal hostility, but - as usual in French musical politics - through the embarrassing activities of cliques of over-zealous partisans. As Ravel put it: ”It's probably better for us after all to be on frigid terms for illogical reasons.”
It is in these two quartets that Debussy and Ravel seem closest together in musical approach. There is a similar delicacy in the instrumental writing, and it cannot be entirely by accident that the movement sequence is the same in both works: Each has a quick first and last movement, a scherzo standing second and prominently featuring pizzicato effects, and a contrasted slow movement standing third. But the formal technique also throws light on the differences between the two composers. Perhaps taking his cue from Franck, Debussy bases his entire composition on the theme presented in the very first measure. To be sure, a quantity of contrasting material is also introduced, but this opening phrase returns in varied form in the scherzo (first playfully and then more smoothly); again, more drastically altered, in the slow movement; and finally as the lyrical subsidiary theme of the Finale. The transformations are so subtly achieved that the music sounds completely seamless, and the kaleidoscopic effect of the new contexts in which the familiar motif is placed prevents any danger of monotony.
Ravel, on the other hand, works in smaller, more clearly defined formal units. Paradoxically it is in his work that one may feel a certain lack of contrast between the second subject of the first movement and the cantabile theme announced in the thirteenth measure of the succeeding scherzo: as in the first two movements of the Sonatine, and as in the first two movements of the G major Piano Concerto, it is possible to complain that the music is neither different enough for a real change of atmosphere nor similar enough for a deliberate effect of unification. On the other hand, in intrinsic interest Ravel's material certainly yields nothing to Debussy's. There are few more striking inspirations in either work than the second-subject theme already cited; and in the recapitulation Ravel achieves an extraordinarily simple stroke of genius by presenting the melody once again at exactly the same pitch as before, changing only the cello's pizzicato punctuation to change the harmonic context from D minor to the home F major. In rhythmic interest, Ravel's scherzo and finale - the former constantly combining 6/8 with 3/4, the latter written for much of its length in 5/8 - match Debussy's corresponding movements for, respectively, subtlety and boldness. And it is hard to arrive at any preference between the two slow movements, both of which stand high in the annals of French music by virtue of their rapt beauty and their exquisitely polished workmanship. In general, Ravel is a less commanding master than Debussy, but in this early product of his maturity he need fear nothing from the comparison
Bernard Jacobson
(Philips 835 361)
Quartetto Italiano
The members of the Quartetto Italiano first began playing together informally during the last three years of the Second World War. When they made their official public debut in 1945, they were konwn as the "New Italian Quartet." This name was cheson to reflect their desire to further a renaissance in the field of chamber music, but after a time it became inappropriate: The membership of the Quartet has remained unchanged, and these four musicians have been playing together longer than the members of any other comparable group of international standing. After their first New York concert in 1951, Virgil Thomson hailed them in the New York Herald Tribune as "the finest quartet, unquestionably, that our century has known," and since that time the Quartetto Italiano has been as widely admired in the United States as in every other part of the musical worls.