ROBERT CASADESUS – Fine French String Quartets – Nos. 3 and 4

French composer Robert Casadesus [1899-1972] wrote four string quartets. They are not very long, all fitting onto a single CD. I am going to discuss SQ No. 3, written in 1950, and SQ No. 4, written in 1957.

A charming cello sound introduces the third quartet, which is in a conversational mood. The intensity rises and falls continuously before we have a change. The first violin leads the second into the high register for a crescendo. Things are slightly chaotic for a time until a touch of the romantic prevails to the finish.

The second movement is very bouncy, and a little stilted. The violins are playful over a strong cello motif. The passage pauses and then moves into a more introverted, minor mood. This is a fabulous section, with measured chaos. Now the composer takes us back to the beginning, and shortly after, to the end!

The next movement marked adagio, is very controlled, both in volume and intensity. This is a beautiful soundscape. The violins are very restrained and only eventually drift into the higher register with some splendid sounds. This feeling is sustained for the whole movement; there are only subtle changes. Nearing the conclusion the music is down to the two violins. Slowly the cello returns for a short time until the movement concludes in peace.

The final movement opens with the cello, almost jazz-like. The violins are dominant in this passage. Now the cello stops and the two violins continue on their own. The cello motif returns and we are back into the opening feeling; very busy violins. There is a strong rhythmic passage, punctuated by chords, which then gives way to the cello motif again. The violins play in harmony and the intensity is high. Another crescendo for the two violins concludes the piece. This is some joyous music.

The fourth quartet begins slowly with a prominent cello. It is a uniquely beautiful mood. Interestingly, a mood similar to this is achieved in three of the four quartet opening movements, but it is played differently every time. The violins meander over the ensemble; this is a terrific place to be. There is no tempo, just a drifting consciousness. Now the intensity drops and we are left with much more space for a while, before returning to the opening theme.  The violins predominate, thickening the texture as we move towards a conclusion with the two violins gently fading together.

The next movement is carried by a cello motif which allows the violins to roam freely. This is a bustling introduction. A chord change, together with a passage of pizzicato, lifts the intensity. Things are now very busy. A brief pause allows for a tempo change, back to moderato.  Now the viola picks up the rhythm. A repeat of the chord change and pizzicato and we are back where we were at the start of the movement. The violins complete the section with a brief flourish.

The third movement, which is very brief at 1:26, is an adagio. Due to its length, there is very little to music to describe except for a brief violin crescendo, which leads to the conclusion.

The final movement is again slow. It sounds like early music for a while until the whole ensemble comes into play. This is a marvellous mood with the instruments intertwining to produce the desired effect. Suddenly, it’s more assertive with both violins in their high register. It then drops back to two violins and we start the process of rebuilding the texture. The tempo increases and we are almost into chaos. The violins leap into the high register for a sharp conclusion.

Two things. Firstly, I’d have to say that these pieces are reminiscent of the great tradition of French quartets of Debussy and Ravel. I can’t think of any other composers, French or otherwise, about whom I could say the same. Casadesus gives more than just a nod to his masters, he sometimes evokes their moods and feelings as well. Secondly, all of the movements are fairly brief, some barely reaching five minutes. This is not a criticism, it’s just that they are usually over very quickly!

Regarding availability, there is a CD on Amazon UK, Quators Nos. 1-4 by Quator Manfred, I believe on the Casadesus label. Interestingly it comes with a fascinating DVD. The CD is also available as New and Used and as an MP3 download. It appears that these quartets are neither on Spotify nor YouTube. What a shame.

Listenability: Timeless classic impressionistic quartets.


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