Innovators Benyounes

The Strad Issue: June 2019 
Description: Quartet’s tenth-anniversary disc is something to celebrate

Musicians: Benyounes Quartet

Works: BARTÓK String Quartet no.2 op.17 BEETHOVEN String Quartet in F minor op.95 ‘Serioso’ DEBUSSY String Quartet


Marking the tenth anniversary of the Benyounes Quartet, this disc profiles a versatile group that is equally convincing in each of its three works, which together span a century. In the first movement of Bartók’s String Quartet no.2, the players balance dense chromaticism and counterpoint with flourishing lines that yield an enigmatic, abstracted lyricism. The second movement – earthy but not jagged, and with well-judged fluctuations of tempo – leads to a finale whose semitonal clashes, as a result of the players’ timbral balance, appear as spectralist consonances.

Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ Quartet is characterised by a forward drive – the development of the first movement has a particular urgency – as well as a natural freedom of expression and suppleness of phrasing, while a note of stormy drama underlies the finale; here the coda erupts with enrapturing fleet-footed articulation.

Debussy’s Quartet is perhaps the most technically demanding of the works, but the Benyounes manage to balance warmth of tone and breathable phrasing with brittle precision (for example in the rhythmic pizzicato-heavy second movement). Throughout, the playing is never over-embellished but rather reveals a tensile strength at the music’s core. With a lively, well balanced sound and decent programme notes to match, all that’s missing is a red-ribbon bow.