Most recordings of the wonderful Ravel String Quartet of 1902-3 is most frequently paired with the similarly masterful Debussy String Quartet (1893) or with another of Ravel’s fine chamber works. Not here though. For their debut recording this quartet has apparently chosen to demonstrate their skills by programming which spans the 18th to the early 20th century along with a selection of transcriptions of lesser known Ravel pieces. After ten years playing together they have chosen to lay down some recorded tracks for posterity.
The disc opens with the Ravel Quartet which is handled most ably. It is ostensibly this quartet that inspired first violin Ross Snyder to dedicate his career to the string quartet. The bonuses here are transcriptions by first violin, Ross Snyder, of three lesser known Ravel piano pieces. They are, in order of appearance on the album, the brief Menuet sur la nom d’ Haydn (1909), the more familiar Menuet Antique (1895), and the Menuet in C sharp minor (1904) are heard in transcriptions for string quartet.
By contrast the Teslas have chosen to feature Haydn’s String Quartet in C major Op. 54 No. 2. It is the first one of the first set of so called “Tost” Quartets written in 1788 and named for a violinist (Johann Tost) of the Esterhazy orchestra. This is mid-career Haydn who is justly known as the father of the string quartet.
The larger works are punctuated by the short transcriptions. The Menuet sur le nom d’ Haydn follows the Ravel and leads us neatly to the Haydn. The Menuet Antique follows next. It is one of the more ubiquitous compositions of Ravel and listeners familiar with the composer’s work will doubtless recognize it as it appears in the Sonatine and the piano suite (later orchestrated), Le Tombeau de Couperin.
We then get to hear a lesser known masterwork by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), his Concertino for String Quartet (1920). This is early Stravinsky but he clearly thought highly of this piece as he later orchestrated it in 1953 for small ensemble. It is only about six and a half minutes long but listeners will be able to discern this as a masterful work by the composer who had already produced his three great ballets, The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Nothing that earth shaking here but the hand of the artist can clearly be heard.
The disc ends rather enigmatically perhaps with a transcription of the very brief Menuet in C sharp minor which clocks in at under a minute. The end result is a tasty little resume of an emerging chamber group that one hopes will bring another interesting perspective on the genre of the string quartet. This is an auspicious and most listenable debut.