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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F major, M.35 (1904) [28:49]
Violin Sonata (1923-27) [17:59]
Introduction and Allegro for harp, string quartet, flute and clarinet (1905) [10:29]
Pascal Quartet
Louis Kaufman (violin) and Artur Balsam (piano)
Parrenin Quartet with Marie-Claire Jamet (harp), Christian Larde (flute), Guy Deplus (clarinet)
rec. 1951 (Quartet), c.1950 (Introduction and Allegro) and 1949, Geneva (Sonata)
Maurice RAVEL
String Quartet in F major, M.35 (1904) [28:32]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
String Quartet in D minor Voces Intimae Op. 56 (1909) [32:31]
Pascal Quartet
rec. live broadcasts, Paris, 24 November 1956 (Ravel) and 9 July 1955 (Sibelius)

The focus in these two discs is largely on the Pascal Quartet. I’ve invariably found them highly effective in the Franco-Belgian repertoire but less consistently impressive outside it, as evidenced by my lack of enthusiasm for their Beethoven cycle, which was also reissued by Forgotten Records (see review). Here they essay the Ravel. The first performance comes from an LP made in 1951 and issued and re-issued variously by Concert Hall, Musical Masterpiece Society and Classic. The second is an off-air broadcast from Paris in 1956.

The eponymous leader of the ensemble was violist Léon Pascal. He had already recorded the work back in 1936-37 when he was with the Calvet Quartet. The structure of the Calvet and Pascal performances was similar, though it’s very noticeable that when Calvet reformed his quartet with new personnel and gave concerts after the war the slow movement became ever more expressive and elastic. Pascal’s group never matched Calvet’s in the ‘vif et agité’ element of the finale but there are many delightful elements of both Pascal recordings under discussion. First violin Jacques Dumont floats his tone elegantly in the first movement, though Calvet himself remains the better primarius, and the ensemble plays the B section of the scherzo evocatively. Of the two performances I prefer the studio one. The recording is more focused and has more impact and definition.

FR1282 also houses a live July 1955 performance of Sibelius’ Quartet, a composer not generally looked on with any favour in Paris. The recording here is typically dry and has no studio resonance. The performance is honest, occasionally effortful but penny-plain tonally when one recalls the glories of the pre-war Budapest Quartet 78rpm set.

On FR610 the baton passes to the Parrenin Quartet for an altogether splendid account of the Introduction and Allegro with their eminent colleagues Marie-Claire Jamet (harp), Christian Larde (flute) and Guy Deplus (clarinet). Whilst the very forward nature of Jamet’s instrument sometimes turns things into a Harp concertino, the music-making itself is sensitive and nuanced. Finally, there is Louis Kaufman and Artur Balsam in the Violin Sonata, a recording made, according to the discography in the violinist’s autobiography, in Geneva in 1949 for Musical Masterpiece Society. Kaufman takes propulsive tempi – when Balsam recorded it soon after in 1955 with Francescatti the refined Zino took things a lot more temperately – and lavishes a full battery of sensuous, indeed downright salacious expressive profiling on it. The commanding glamour of this approach won’t be to all tastes through his admixture of Kreislerian and Heifetz devices vest the sonata with an intoxicating headiness. Given his command of the idiom – think Copland and Robert Russell Bennett – he gets the Blues stylisation just right. This is playing of sultry intensity mitigated only by Balsam being slightly backward in the balance and the recording being somewhat congested.

Of the two discs under discussion, the Pascal’s Ravel is heard better in the studio performance on FR610 where the two other performances are equally fine. There are no notes, as usual from this source, but there are internet pages to pursue.

Jonathan Woolf



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