Highly contrasted readings of a pair of contemporary quartets

Telegraph Quartet: Divergent Paths

The Strad Issue: October 2023

Description: Highly contrasted readings of a pair of contemporary quartets

Musicians: Telegraph Quartet

Works: Ravel: String Quartet in F major. Schoenberg: String Quartet no.1

Catalogue number: AZICA RECORDS ACD 7136027

These quartets by Ravel and Schoenberg, written a year apart – in 1902–3 and 1904–5 respectively – are progressive and at the same time emblematic of preceding Western traditions. Both refer back to Classicism, and long-established structural devices, but their solutions to the way forward are radically different. Schoenberg’s intense, densely written counterpoint demonstrates his allegiance to Bach in its linear weave; equally, the richness of Brahms’s harmony and bass-driven invention are at the music’s core, and Haydn also makes an appearance. Yet this highly Expressionistic writing shows Schoenberg very much on the edge. The Telegraph Quartet has absorbed these stylistic ‘isms’ very impressively and achieves a remarkable clarity of texture. The players are alert to the music’s emotional power and extreme dynamics, creating an exceptionally varied narrative. And they overcome the potentially thorny issue of intonation, given Schoenberg’s highly chromatic language.

Ravel’s response to the weight of history is to lace his writing with the perfumes of gamelan and Spanish and Russian music. Here, timbre is raised to structural importance as the music by turns quivers or gives way to a strongly rhythmic drive. The textures are delicate and subtle, the Telegraph’s interpretation equally nuanced. Virtuosity is consummate: expressively full one second, lean the next, with the players bending in the wind of Ravel’s quixotically shifting sonorities.