This new collection brings back, under a new design, some of the best Dynamic releases of the past. The selection of rare recordings for 'music gourmands' will feature works spanning the Renaissance to the 20th-century music.
After Beethoven, the production of string quartets suffered a gradual decline.
In France, in the second half of the 19th century, very few string quartets were composed, the most important ones that survived the test of time being those of Cesar Franck (1889), Debussy (1893) and Ravel (1903). Indeed, also the two Saint-Saëns quartets here recorded ought to be included in the list, and one strives to find a reason why performers often disregard them in favour of the usual and more popular works. After all, the Quartet in E minor Op.112, composed in 1899, was written for that same Ysaÿe to whom, six years earlier, Debussy had dedicated his own quartet. And how could a work composed for such a celebrated soloist be anything but fine?
Like Schumann and Brahms, also Saint-Saëns consistently included the piano in his chamber works. The two quartets here recorded are therefore an exception, and the composer had to abandon the notion of 'accompaniment' and tackle the balance of colours and sonorities of four string instruments, which as a rule lead to harmonic and polyphonic situations where all parts are of equal importance. Saint-Saëns conquered the form, for his hand was always guided by such musical wisdom and discernment as to make his works appear at once natural and extraordinary.
In his Quartets, writing is at the service of both technique and expressivity. Generally speaking, this work appears somewhat abstract, as if Saint-Saëns wanted to hide behind the notes. Anonymous music? More likely the mark of a genius. After all, his contemporaries thought there was only one thing wrong with Saint-Saëns: his lack of inexperience.