Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Guy Ropartz - String Quartets Nos. 4, 5 & 6 (Quatuor Stanislas)


Composer: Guy Ropartz
  1. String Quartet No. 4 in E major: I. Allegro
  2. String Quartet No. 4 in E major: II. Allegro
  3. String Quartet No. 4 in E major: III. Quasi lento
  4. String Quartet No. 4 in E major: IV. Allegro
  5. String Quartet No. 5 "quasi una fantasia" in D major: I. Allegro moderato
  6. String Quartet No. 5 "quasi una fantasia" in D major: II. Adagio
  7. String Quartet No. 5 "quasi una fantasia" in D major: III. Vivacissimo
  8. String Quartet No. 5 "quasi una fantasia" in D major: IV. Adagio
  9. String Quartet No. 5 "quasi una fantasia" in D major: V. Allegro
  10. String Quartet No. 6 in F major: I. Allegro moderato
  11. String Quartet No. 6 in F major: II. Molto animato
  12. String Quartet No. 6 in F major: III. Lento
  13. String Quartet No. 6 in F major: IV. Allegro giocoso

Quatuor Stanislas
Laurent Causse, violin
Bertrand Menut, violin
Paul Fenton, viola
Jean de Spengler, cello

Date: 2005 (10-13), 2006
Label: Timpani



Any discussion of stylistic evolution in the music of Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864–1955) should take into account his unusually long period of active work. This is a composer who initially studied at the Paris Conservatoire a generation before Fauré became its director, forcing through a series of important reforms. His earliest mature works date from the 1880s; his First Quartet was published in 1893; his Sixth Quartet, in 1948. Artistic longevity of this sort is hardly without parallel, but it took place in a France that had seldom seen a succession of such monumental changes in a short span of time. Ropartz neither rejected nor uncritically embraced their musical equivalent, for it was not his way, like Stravinsky, always to seek to lead the parade. Instead he gradually adopted whatever aesthetic and technical tools he found to fit a given task at hand. Over time, his music—rooted in the late-French-Romantic complexities of his favorite teacher, César Franck—simplified its textures, and concerned itself less with conventional development than the transformations of memorable thematic material. It also acquired a neo-Classical poise, without losing a profundity and wit that Ropartz had early displayed.

The three works on this album mark relatively late points in this journey. The String Quartet No. 4, finished in 1934, was premiered by the prestigious Calvet Quartet. It begins with a jubilant Allegro whose surface hardly hints at its intricacies of construction. The folk-like but never rustic opening theme of the Scherzo reappears briefly, transformed, towards the start of the glowing finale; but it is the quasi lento that functions as the Fourth Quartet’s spiritual center. A short piece (none of the movements lasts longer than five minutes) of great beauty, it is built around a pair of notes giving the interval of the fifth. Considerable ingenuity is shown in moving this from instrument to instrument, through harmonic textures, as the stuff of counterpoint, and briefly in the melody, yet never with the slightest evidence of self-consciousness.

The composition of the String Quartet No. 5 began directly following the death of Ropartz’s wife on New Year’s Day, 1939, and continued into 1940. Its five-movement structure actually comprises four movements, with the breezy Scherzo inserted in the middle of the Adagio; but those four movements are meant to be played continuously, and lead naturally into one another. (To complete a Chinese box structure that was obviously a matter of pride in craftsmanship to Ropartz, the Scherzo section itself has a slower, meditative center section.) Personally, I find the finale slightly overstays its welcome: clever, but circling around a thematic center too often. The rest of the work is brilliantly composed, however, with the return of the Adagio especially inspired.

The Quartet No. 6, composed in 1947–48, brings to mind a letter sent to Ropartz in 1894 by his friend, Albéric Magnard: “The abundance and length of your developments are harmful to the breadth of phrase and clarity of the whole. One must know how to sacrifice even pretty things and, the day you’re of the same opinion, you’ll produce really beautiful scores.” Harsh but well-meant words, and the recipient took the advice to heart. This quartet, one of his last works, displays clarity, succinctness, and a joyfulness only occasionally obscured. The Scherzo is a mix of great delicacy, counterpoint, and energy, while the opening and final movements have rather more structural and emotional variety than its sister works offer. The Adagio, as usual with this composer, is the heart of the work, tonally digressive in a way that might have made even his old master Franck raise an eyebrow—except that Ropartz was expert at binding any material contrapuntally over a lengthy span, and the slower, the better. This is my personal favorite among those slow movements, having repeatedly heard and enjoyed all the symphonies, quartets, and several other chamber works. It has an intensity I associate with Beethoven’s late quartets, and to my mind that isn’t over praise.

The Stanislas Quartet is part of the Stanislas Ensemble. Founded in 1984, they’re drawn from musicians working in the region of Nancy, once Ropartz’s stomping grounds. I cannot fault them in any way on technical grounds: quite an accomplishment, in music whose difficulty lies in the way the four parts are usually engaged in some form of intricate byplay. My sole criticism remains as it was in my review of the Second and Third Quartets ( Fanfare 30:3), a slight lack of crisp assertiveness in the scherzos and finales. No problems with the adagios, though, where they properly find the emotional core of each work. The engineering is dry but close, with a nice, burnished warmth, and good separation. The liner notes are excellent. Highly recommended.

-- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE

More reviews:


Guy Ropartz (June 15, 1864 – November 22, 1955) was a French composer and conductor. His compositions included five symphonies, three violin sonatas, cello sonatas, six string quartets, a piano trio and string trio (both in A minor), stage works, a number of choral works and other music including a Prélude, Marine et Chansons for flute, harp and string trio, often alluding to his Breton heritage. He self-identified as a Celtic Breton. His musical style was influenced by Claude Debussy and César Franck. Ropartz was also a writer of literary works, notably poetry.


Founded in 1984, the Stanislas Quartet was named after Stanislas Lescinsky, King of Poland and the last Duke of Lorraine, who made Nancy his renowned capital. Alone or as part of a larger group, the Stanislas Quartet and Ensemble became one of the more interesting French ensembles, notable for the quality of their interpretations as well as the originality of programming. Each year, they have a concerts-series in Nancy with  an enthusiastic and ever increasing public. The Stanislas Ensemble and Quartet has already recorded  over twenty  compact discs, warmly received by international critics.


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