MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 12, JUNE 2001  
Online Journal

'DAWN TO DUSK'
RAVEL: STRING QUARTET
JANÁCEK: STRING QUARTET NO.2 ('INTIMATE LETTERS')

Avalon String Quartet
Channel Classics CCS 14898
£££

TPT: 51'41

The Avalon Quartet are a young ensemble, based in the United States, at the outset of an international career, having already won some major international prizes. This disc, their debut for Channel Classics, provides an enjoyable showcase of their talents. The unusual pairing of these two early twentieth-century masterpieces was apparently chosen by the quartet simply because they like playing them. And why not?

It is heartening to hear the work played with such directness, sincerity and youthfulness

It is just such a spirit of straightforward enjoyment which comes across in their performances, although that is not to say that their interpretations lack depth or understanding. Far from it; indeed, it takes a subtle and instinctive grasp of both these composers' styles to allow their music to speak naturally.

The Ravel, a work which can sound rather sickly sweet in the wrong hands, is given a warm, sincerely-expressive interpretation, capturing the naïve innocence of the opening movement's main thematic ideas while attaining a passionate intensity at the movement's climax. The Scherzo is played with full enjoyment of the accented syncopations in a nicely-controlled tempo. In the finale, the quartet begin to show some gutsiness, and it is this quality which stands them in good stead in the Janácek Second Quartet.

The disc's title Dawn to Dusk is rather misleading – Janácek, in his last completed composition, exhibits an incomparable youthfulness of spirit at the age of 74, which belies any suggestion that this is a 'twilight' work of an old man on his deathbed.

The Avalons approach the piece with gusto, enjoying every moment of the music's ardent passion and surmounting pretty much all the work's perilous technical demands. It is heartening to hear the work played with such directness, sincerity and youthfulness; the notorious tempo changes are managed effortlessly, where they can so easily sound stilted.

In short, this is a thoroughly enjoyable debut disc from a most promising young quartet. There is a real musical sensitivity here, the interpretations showing assurance and passion and an infectious enjoyment of music-making. We need to hear more of them - perhaps pairing Debussy and Janácek No.1?


Paul Janes  


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