When Debussy's String Quartet is so often partnered on disc by Ravel's, a considerable chunk of the enjoyment to be had from this recording is down to the simple fact that it's a Debussy-only programme. It's true that Debussy left slim pickings for chamber string ensembles, but the Brodsky Quartet have shown here what musical riches are possible with the combination of Debussy and string quartet when a bit of lateral thinking comes into play, together with a few guest artists.
The Quartet tops the running order in a confident, vital, lyrical reading. Beautifully nuanced, there's acerbic edge, gentle Gallic playfulness, aching romance and every emotional and tonal shade inbetween. The "Un peu plus vite" middle section of the third movement takes on particular profundity handled by the Brodskys, its clean long lines taking on real other-worldly beauty in places. It's quite gorgeous.
Debussy's teenage Piano Trio doesn't often get to see the light of day, mostly because it reveals him very much still in feet-finding mode. Still, it's an enjoyable listen, and it's interesting to compare its pizzicato second movement with that of the Quartet, and the Brodskys and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet are evidently having some fun. They're an effortless partnership, making make much of the work's smoochy, romantic leanings, the high beauty of many of its passages, and its light, clear textures.
Then, Sioned Williams' reading of the Deux Danses is so alluring and natural that you forget that these were actually commissioned as killer exam pieces for the Brussels Conservatory. With a sure sense of structure underpinning both movements, Williams gives us a lilting, hymnal "Danse sacree", full of innocent joie de vivre, followed by a "Danse profane" whose swirling, decadent climax is breath-catchingly seductive.
Just when works suitable for string quartet really are running out, in steps Brodsky viola player Paul Cassidy with his string quartet arrangement of Reverie, originally for solo piano. Written contemporaneously to the Quartet, Debussy may have intended it as little more than a charming salon piece, but Cassidy's scoring is so similar to that of the quartet that the work has taken on a new identity. Far from feeling like an "And finally..." bonbon, its new gravitas makes it a fitting bookend to the programme, a partner to the Quartet, and an unexpected delight.