• Alexander's Playlist: Debussy & Ravel: String Quartets

    By Alexander Neef

    General Director Alexander Neef shares his favourite music recordings in this series of weekly recommendations.

    Debussy: String Quartet in G minor
    Ravel: String Quartet in F
    Quartetto Italiano
    Philips Classics, 1999



    This week I wanted to share a recording that explores one of my favourite innovators in music: the French composer Claude Debussy.

    In almost everything he did, Debussy truly charted a new path. He blazed it with confidence and opened new perspectives for generations after him, and while I have long appreciated his entire body of work — and this string quartet in particular — I have only recently discovered this 1965 recording by the incomparable mid-century ensemble “Quartetto Italiano.”

    When the “Quartetto” plays, there is a special atmosphere. As individual musicians, they are vibrant and unique personalities, and as an ensemble they have an intimate familiarity with each other and a profound knowledge of the material that creates a truly one-of-a-kind quality — almost an aura — of entering into the inner glow of this music, of living and breathing with it. It’s difficult to describe, but easy to hear.

    Debussy’s innovative work unlatched the string quartet from its historical precedents, bursting through the conventions and structures of the form with a radical openness to offer a brilliant range of colours and Impressionistic variations that are simply breathtaking.

    The recording pairs Debussy’s work with Maurice Ravel, whose take on the string quartet followed Debussy’s by about a decade and underlines the extent to which the former influenced everything that came after.

    ––Alexander Neef



    Music credit: Debussy & Ravel: String Quartets, Quartetto Italiano, Philips Classics, 1999

    Posted in Alexander's Playlist

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