Brodsky Quartet – Debussy – String Quartet; Piano Trio; Deux Danses; Reverie (2012)

FrontCover1When Debussy’s String Quartet is so often partnered on disc by Ravel’s, a considerable chunk of the enjoyment to be had from this recording is down to the simple fact that it’s a Debussy-only programme. It’s true that Debussy left slim pickings for chamber string ensembles, but the Brodsky Quartet have shown here what musical riches are possible with the combination of Debussy and string quartet when a bit of lateral thinking comes into play, together with a few guest artists.

The Quartet tops the running order in a confident, vital, lyrical reading. Beautifully nuanced, there’s acerbic edge, gentle Gallic playfulness, aching romance and every emotional and tonal shade inbetween. The “Un peu plus vite” middle section of the third movement takes on particular profundity handled by the Brodskys, its clean long lines taking on real other-worldly beauty in places. It’s quite gorgeous.


Debussy’s teenage Piano Trio doesn’t often get to see the light of day, mostly because it reveals him very much still in feet-finding mode. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen, and it’s interesting to compare its pizzicato second movement with that of the Quartet, and the Brodskys and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet are evidently having some fun. They’re an effortless partnership, making make much of the work’s smoochy, romantic leanings, the high beauty of many of its passages, and its light, clear textures.

Then, Sioned Williams’ reading of the Deux Danses is so alluring and natural that you forget that these were actually commissioned as killer exam pieces for the Brussels Conservatory. With a sure sense of structure underpinning both movements, Williams gives us a lilting, hymnal “Danse sacrée”, full of innocent joie de vivre, followed by a “Danse profane” whose swirling, decadent climax is breath-catchingly seductive.


Just when works suitable for string quartet really are running out, in steps Brodsky viola player Paul Cassidy with his string quartet arrangement of Rêverie, originally for solo piano. Written contemporaneously to the Quartet, Debussy may have intended it as little more than a charming salon piece, but Cassidy’s scoring is so similar to that of the quartet that the work has taken on a new identity. Far from feeling like an “And finally…” bonbon, its new gravitas makes it a fitting bookend to the programme, a partner to the Quartet, and an unexpected delight.

A confident, vital, lyrical reading of the Quartet, plus delightful extras. (by Charlotte Gardner)

Brodsky Quartet

Ian Belton (violin)
Paul Cassidy (viola)
Daniel Rowland (violin)
Jacqueline Thomas (cello)
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano on 06. – 09.)
Chris Laurence (bass on 05.)
Sioned Williams (harp on 05.)



Premier Quatuor, Op. 10 in G minor – in g-Moll – en sol mineur
for strings (1893) (26.51):
01. Animé et très décidé – Un peu retenu – En serrant le mouvement – Premier Mouvement – En animant 6.19
02. Assez vif et bien rythmé – Même mouvement 3.49
03. Andantino doucement expressif – Un peu plus vite – Premier Mouvement 8.47
04. Trés modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion 7.13

05. Deux Danses (1904) 10.31
05.1. Danse sacrée. Très modéré – Sans lenteur – En animant peu à peu 5.13
05.2. Danse profane. Modéré – Animez – Tempo I – Animez – Retenu – A tempo 5.28

Premier Trio in G major – in G-Dur – en sol majeur for violin, cello, and piano (1880) (21.59):
06. Andantino con moto allegro – Allegro appassionato – Un poco rallentando 8.14
07. Scherzo. Intermezzo. Moderato con Allegro – Un poco più lento – Tempo I 3.20
08. Andante espressivo – Un poco più mosso – Tempo I 4.18
09. Finale. Appassionato – Un poco ritenuto – [Tempo I]

Reverie mfor piano (c. 1890):
10. Reverie arranged for string quartet 5.42

Music composed by Claude Debussy




Maurice Ravel + Claude Debussy – Bolero + Le Mer (1989)

FrontCover1Two famous concerts from the classical music history:

Before he left for a triumphant tour of North America in January 1928, Maurice Ravel had agreed to write a Spanish-flavoured ballet score for his friend, the Russian dancer and actress Ida Rubinstein (1885-1960).

The idea was to create an orchestral transcription of Albeniz’s piano suite Iberia. But on his return Ravel discovered that the orchestration rights had been granted to the Spanish conductor Enrique Arbós. Although Arbós generously gave up these rights, Ravel abandoned the idea and set about preparing an original score.

Ravel had long toyed with the idea of building a composition from a single theme which would grow simply through harmonic and instrumental ingenuity. Boléro’s famous theme came to him on holiday in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

MauriceRavelHe was about to go for a swim when he called a friend over to the piano and, playing the melody with one finger, asked: “Don’t you think that has an insistent quality? I’m going to try to repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”

He began work in July. By Ravel’s standards the piece was completed quickly, in five months – it had to be ready for Rubinstein to choreograph.

“Once the idea of using only one theme was discovered,” he asserted, “any conservatory student could have done as well.”

BoleroThe relentless snare-drum underpins the whole of the 15-minute work as Ravel inexorably builds on the simple tune until, with a daring modulation from C major to E major, he finally releases the pent-up tension with a burst of fireworks.

Boléro was given its first performance at the Paris Opéra on November 20, 1928. The premiere was acclaimed by a shouting, stamping, cheering audience in the midst of which a woman was heard screaming: “Au fou, au fou!” (“The madman! The madman!”). When Ravel was told of this, he reportedly replied: “That lady… she understood.”

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said: “I am particularly desirous there should be no misunderstanding about this work. It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving other or more than it actually does.”

Yet although Ravel considered Boléro one of his least important works, it has always been his most popular. (

La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (French for The sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra), or simply La mer (i.e. The Sea), is an orchestral composition (L 109) by the French composer Claude Debussy.

Composed between 1903 and 1905, the piece was initially not well received, but soon became one of Debussy’s most admired and frequently performed orchestral works.

The work was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 at Grand Hotel Eastbourne on the English Channel coast. The premiere was given on 15 October 1905 in Paris, by the Orchestre Lamoureux under the direction of Camille Chevillard.

GrandHotelA typical performance of this piece lasts about 23 or 24 minutes. It is in three movements:

“De l’aube à midi sur la mer” – très lent – animez peu à peu (si mineur)
“Jeux de vagues” – allegro (dans un rythme très souple) – animé (do dièse mineur)
“Dialogue du vent et de la mer” – animé et tumultueux – cédez très légérement (do dièse mineur)

Usually translated as:
“From dawn to noon on the sea” or “From dawn to midday on the sea” – very slow – animate little by little (B minor)
“Play of the Waves” – allegro (with a very versatile rhythm) – animated (C sharp minor)
“Dialogue of the wind and the sea” or “Dialogue between wind and waves” – animated and tumultuous – give up very slightly (C sharp minor)

ClaudeDebussyLa mer is a masterpiece of suggestion and subtlety in its rich depiction of the ocean, which combines unusual orchestration with daring impressionistic harmonies. The work has proven very influential, and its use of sensuous tonal colours and its orchestration methods have influenced many later film scores. While the structure of the work places it outside of both absolute music and programme music (see below on the title “Three symphonic sketches”) as those terms were understood in the early 20th century, it obviously uses descriptive devices to suggest wind, waves and the ambience of the sea. But structuring a piece around a nature subject without any literary or human element to it – neither people, nor mythology, nor ships are suggested in the piece – also was highly unusual at the time.

Debussy called La mer “three symphonic sketches,” avoiding the loaded term symphony. Yet the work is sometimes called a symphony; it consists of two powerful outer movements framing a lighter, faster piece which acts as a type of scherzo. But the author Jean Barraqué (in “La Mer de Debussy,” Analyse musicale 12/3, June 1988,) describes La mer as the first work to have an “open” form – a devenir sonore or “sonorous becoming… a developmental process in which the very notions of exposition and development coexist in an uninterrupted burst.” Simon Trezise, in his book Debussy: La Mer (Cambridge, 1994) notes, however, that “motifs are constantly propagated by derivation from earlier motifs” (p. 52).

Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seji Ozawa (01. + 02.)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Carlo Maria Guilini (03. – 05.)
Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas (06.)


Maurice Ravel (recorded 1974):
01. Tempo Di Bolero Moderato Assai 15.01
02. La Valse  11.58

Claude Debussy:

La Mer (recorded 1980):
03. I. From Dawn Till Noon On The Sea De L’aube à Midi Sur La Mer  9.25
04. II. Play Of The Waves Jeux De Vagues 7.18
05. III. Dialogue Of The Wind And The Sea Dialogue Du Vent Et De La Mer  8.38

06. Prélude à L’apr#s-Midi D’un Faune (recorded 1971) 9.32