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Jean BINET (1893-1960)
String Quartet (1929-30) [16:59]
Pierre WISSMER (1915-1992)
String Quartet No. 2 (1948-49) [14:54]
Henri GAGNEBIN (1886-1977)
Second Quartet in E flat "Divertimento" (1923-24) [15:36]
Bernard SCHULÉ (1909-1996)
String Quartet "Fête romantique", Op. 149 (1986) [17:33]
Bernard REICHEL (1901-1992)
Three Preludes and Ricercari for string quartet (1987) [14:31]
Quatuor de Genève
rec. 2015, Studio Ernest Ansermet RTS, Geneva
GALLO CD-1463 [79:36]

This fascinating release features composers associated with the Swiss city of Geneva. Apart from Pierre Wissmer, the other four are new names to me. The performers are the Quatuor de Genève, members drawn from the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR). The ensemble was originally founded in 1998 as the Quatuor Florestan but changed its name to the Quatuor de Genève in 2011. Their repertoire embraces an eclectic mix from Haydn to the present day.

Jean Binet worked in every genre except opera and was at his most inspirational and intensely personal in songs, orchestral and chamber music. The String Quartet of 1929-30 is his most distinguished chamber work. Dedicated to the Pro Arte Quartet, they premiered it in Brussels in February 1931. The opening movement is spiky and jagged, occasionally giving way to more lyrical moments, with a piquant scoring colourfully spiced with polytonality. A dreamy Nocturne sits centrally, emitting a radiant static quality. The spirit of Stravinsky informs the propulsive rhythmical angularity of the finale.

The Wissmer String Quartet of 1948-49 couldn't be more different, the perfect model of concision. The delightful first movement basks in a bucolic landscape. The composer dispenses with a scherzo; the second movement being a similarly heartfelt and alluring Andante. A gigue motif, a carefree manner and upbeat attitude are the hallmarks of the finale, displaying some deft polyphony along the way.

One of Henri Gagnebin's claims to fame was that, as director of the Geneva Conservatoire from 1925-1957, his formulation of a high-level curriculum and appointment of influential teachers transformed the institution into one of the foremost in Europe. Like Binet he composed in every genre except opera. He wrote three string quartets. His Second Quartet, Divertimento (1923-24), is made up of four traditional movements. The whole work is awash with rich melodic material. A solemn Fantasie ushers in proceedings. Then comes a jaunty Scherzo, followed by a noble and serene Adagio. The last movement is animated, with some imaginative modulations providing added interest. All four movements are linked.

Bernard Schulé’s teachers at the École Normale de Musique included some prominent figures – Alfred Cortot (piano), Nadia Boulanger (counterpoint) and Paul Dukas (composition). Schulé was also friends with Dinu Lipatti, a fellow student. The String Quartet Fête romantique, Op. 149, was premiered by the Quatuor de Genève’s predecessors in 1986. It departs from the usual pattern in having five short movements, is tonally centred and brims over with attractive melody. The fourth movement Cantabile is particularly distinctive and we hear the spirit of Schubert hovering in the shadows.

Bernard Reichel’s career centred on the conservatoire in Geneva, where he taught harmony, and his activities as a church organist in various Protestant parishes in the city. He was a close friend of Frank Martin. His Three Preludes and Ricercari for string quartet from 1987 have never received a public performance to date. It’s a reworking of the first three of his Six Preludes and Ricercari for Piano of ten years earlier. Tonally based with modal influences, it reveals some accomplished polyphony. Reichel harks back to such ancient forms as the motet, cantata, fugue, canon and variations.

These stylish performances by the Quatuor de Genève have been a joy. I love the way they inject plenty of personality into their playing, and one senses throughout a close rapport between them. These are rarities to savour and chamber music lovers willing to explore further afield shouldn’t hesitate.

Stephen Greenbank

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