debussy ravel FR2101 lowenguth

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 (1893)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F major (1902-03)
Loewenguth String Quartet
rec. 1962
Forgotten Records FR2101 [54]

This evergreen coupling should not be confused with the Loewenguth Quartet’s earlier DG traversal, with its line up of Alfred Loewenguth, Maurice Fuéri, Roger Roche and Pierre Basseux, which still contained three founding members of the quartet – all except Roche had been in the first iteration back in 1929. This stereo remake dates from 1962 and was released on Vox and Club National du Disque. Jacques Gotkovsky was now second violin, Roche still violist and Roger Loewenguth the cellist.

At the time of this recording the quartet still had two decades in which to perform and record – it only dissolved on Alfred Loewenguth death in 1983 – but its very best days were behind it; those days were the late 40s and 50s. It was still an impressive group, though, and this Debussy-Ravel coupling shows strength of purpose and a finely balanced recording. It projects colouristic qualities and corporate strengths but in the Debussy, and despite acutely judged accelerandos in the first movement, there’s a somewhat laid back quality to the music-making that precludes resilient impetus, especially in the opening movement. The Andantino often brings out wide divergences in interpretation generally and amongst French quartets in particular, from the Bouillon Quartet in the 1940s – a group that seemed to enjoy taking manically fast tempi (6:30 in their recording) – to the earlier Capet who take 8:40. The Loewenguth cut the difference between these twin poles but the effect is somewhat objectified even though the group’s sonority is excellent. If the tempo choices they take remind me of another group, it’s the Galimir in their digital recording for Vanguard.

Loewenguth had had several decades as a quartet leader by this time so the decisions he took were long established. In the Ravel, tempi were along established lines and the group’s structural imperatives are as admirable as are the pizzicati and tremolandi in the Scherzo, where the gauzy B section is assimilated with perception. Dynamics register well, and there’s a sympathetic though not altogether poetic approach to the music that remains appealing. They’re not the most succulent of tonalists, nor are they the most ethereal, but their phrasing is attractive, and they do embody some of the finer qualities of the French school.

As is almost always the case with Forgotten Records, there are no notes but some internet links. The stereo is of fine quality and the transfer is excellent but it’s frightening to think that the recording is sixty years old.

Jonathan Woolf