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Ohana

Maurice Ohana

Complete String Quartets

The Psophos quartet

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Quartet n°1

1.
Polyphonie
2.
Monodie
3.
Déchant
4.
Hymne

Quartet n°2

1.
Sagittaire
2.
Mood
3.
Alborada
4.
Faran-Ngô

Quartet n°3

1.
Sorgin-Ngô

AR RE-SE 2004-7

A world without shadows

The essence of the quartet, distinguished in each work since the genre first came into existence, is to develop a constant dialogue between its players. I speak, you contradict me, we listen to you then retort: we speak at the same time, I fall silent, you listen to me… and so on and so forth. One cannot imagine in what Age other than that of Enlightenment this musical conversation could have been born. And one might think that, some two and half centuries later, its survival is nothing less than a miracle.

Maybe: but this miracle exists.

Unchanged, as much in nomenclature as in the attraction it has wielded on composers since its birth in central Europe around 1770 -- even uniting them like rare conventions inherited from the past, at the close of a XXth century which saw disappear any idea of musical language being a shared household --, and equally mustering its performers under the same banner of "All for one and one for all": such is how the string quartet can be seen nowadays as in yesteryear. One would search in vain to find another instrumental genre endowed with such constancy in quality of repertoire since its birth. Better still, judging by the great number of string quartets still being composed, nothing seems able to stop its movement, nor even to slow it down: after the year 2000 and its high standard of sound luxuriance (instrumental, electronic), the classic and sober string quartet is still alive. And what's more, is doing well.

Yet – and it is doubtless there, neither the least of the paradoxes of which this demanding genre among all is the emblem, nor the least of its lures – it was, remains and always will be "the tool of a certain asceticism" (Pierre Boulez). The very tool which, with maximum sobriety of means (four instruments from the same family -- two of which being identical) brings the composer, naked, face to face with himself. One law alone rules, with which each creator has freedom of arrangement, but which he cannot ignore: that of the "melodic lines" (the counterpoint) which underlie this musical conversation always open to new approaches. To seem to refuse it, as in the like of Elliott Carter in one of his quartets, which he divides into two duets which he wants to be clearly distinct from each other (Third Quartet, 1971), or that of Maurice Ohana, whose polyphonic world is well prior to that of baroque and classical instrumental writing, is, when all said and done, to propose modality…in a radical fashion.

Whether stemming from this (Schönberg) or not (Debussy, Dutilleux), no composer today is unaware that, in composing a string quartet, he is following in the path paved by Haydn and Beethoven. In actual fact, not so much a path going by the name of tradition, but a path going by the name of exactingness of invention. It would be overstepping the framework of this introduction to detail the originality of the founding father, whose evolution is not short of that of Beethoven. But let's not forget, Haydn created, invented and, at the same time, brought into question (as testify his opuses 50 to 64) in order to further reinvent (opus 76). And as, in the words of the Viennese proverb, "All good things come in threes", the XXth century had not even reached mid-way before the name of Bartok joined this list. Even a composer as resistant as Ohana in the face of the German heritage of music by no means denied the importance of this "spine"' of the string quartet.

Here, everything is played in full light. The quartet "exposes the weaknesses of thought as of creation, exalts invention at the same time as refining it" (Pierre Boulez). Nothing escapes the listener. Nothing in a quartet creates diversion, nor coats or embellishes the idea, nothing distracts the ear nor allows emotions to take the wrong road. Its law is to go right to the heart of the matter. It's a "truth game" in which players -- including illustrious names such as Beethoven, Bartok or Ohana -- indulge without cheating nor compromise. This fascinating sonorous object, the string quartet, is constituted of pure muscle without any fat, but clearly not without body: no-one today would dare claim that, for instance, Beethoven's last quartets (some of which equal the length of an opera act) are too long. Take away one movement, one motif, one note, a simple base pizzicato, and you will hear…how necessary they all are. And this quartet body, which is of course anything but an abstraction -- this ingrained reputation of "cerebral music" needs its neck wringing once and for all -- with Bartok and Webern, has learned to accept itself with a sensuality that is one of the graces bequeathed to music by these two's living century. There is not one post-war composer who has not made capital out of this reservoir of new attitudes for string instruments, showcased by new sounds (harmonic, pizzicati claqués, bow wood, etc.), by glissandi of all types, by play with different scales.

Without being commissioned, without incentive other than, occasionally, that of a player (for Séquences by Maurice Ohana, this was the indefatigable Parrenin Quartet), Debussy, Boulez and Ohana each composed a string quartet at turning points in their lives. It nevertheless must be acknowledged that, in the obligation of public commissions (the first from the Ministry of Culture and the second from Radio France), Ohana was the only one to repeat the process with, what is more, a pleasure (1) expressed more than once.

And yet nothing predestined him for this. André Gide, who had heard him "wonderfully" play Bach, Scarlatti, Albenitz, Granados, the Quatrième Ballet and La Barcarolle by Chopin in Naples (Journal, December 27th 1945), knew he was listening to a pianist who had been a child prodigy (first public appearance at 11 years old, repertoire containing the complete sonatas of Beethoven at age 18, etc.) and whose magnificent grand recital at the Salle Pleyel in February 1936 was still fresh in people's minds -- including his own. Some (knowing him to already be an also composer) even made a parallel between Feruccio Busoni, tremendous virtuoso and also composer.

A short while later, Gide himself made a comparison between this Andalusian Spaniard with a British passport who had decided to live in France, and Polish novelist Joseph Conrad (born in Ukraine) who had written all his works in English. This comparison may seem arbitrary to those unaware that one was among the greatest writer of sea novels of all times, while the other constructed pieces without intricacies nor losses, "capturing the movement of seas carving into the coast" according to Lucien Guérinel.

First and foremost a pianist, Ohana, whose piano writing is one of the most beautiful of its time, never repudiated his background of traditional composition: Chopin and Debussy. A catalogue comprising Préludes and Etudes is not born by chance. Furthermore, going one better than "the fine lesson of freedom contained in blossoming trees" imagined by Debussy (2), where the musician of the future could find matter for introducing a fresh approach, Ohana claimed: "In concrete terms, I received the finest music lessons (…) from the sea and the wind, from the rain on the trees and from the light..."

And yet it was still necessary, before devoting himself completely to composing, to tear himself away from both the playing of a devouring instrument (for which Ohana subsequently composed incessantly, always with tender poetry combining both sensuality and violence) and from a father who wished for his son to become an architect. His career path was a clear one: at the end of his brief studies in composition at the Scola Cantorum with Jean-Yves Daniel Lesur prior to World War II (in which he fought in the British Army), he completed his degree course in Rome with Alfredo Casella with whom he struck up an enduring friendship. On the model of his French predecessors (those of the "Groupe des Six" "Group of Six", then of the "Jeunes France" -- "Young France"), Ohana chose to set himself apart and assert his independence in respect of all schools by creating the "Zodiaque" in 1947. Well beyond his short-lived group (3) (not to say "against him", so capital and structuring was the notion of independence for Ohana), this is what contributed towards fashioning "This important figure with an absolute freedom at the same time as an implacable aesthetic artistic inflexibility" (Francis Bayer), as testified with brilliance by his Opus 1, Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias (1950).

Two constants are present from beginning to end of his catalogue, his favoured paths: the voice and the piano (as well as percussion instruments of which the piano is part). Matrixes with contemporary composers like Ferneyhough, Wolfgang Rihm or Elliott Carter, the string quartets seem more like consequences with Ohana's music: the Séquences of the magical Tombeau de Debussy (same usage of tonal layers within one work which is the quintessence of his art), the Deuxième Quatuor (Second String Quartet), with its mysterious second movement, grey as is the light at dusk or twilight, with its full vocal/instrumental solid passages, seems deaf to the sonorous world of the Messe (1977), while extending the work taken up on the chords in Silenciare (1969), just as in the Troisième (Third), much closer to the colours of La Célestine (1988) than to quartets born under other pens at the same time period (Cage: Music fo four and Thirty Pieces; Ferneyhough: Third and Fourth Quartet).

Thus lineaments of Middle Ages plainsong writing, to which the Séquences movements refer, a taste for keyboard percussion instruments whose secrets (4) he explored (Second Caprice for piano, 1953; Silenciaire, 1969) and to which is attached all these vertical, homophone sequences which bear the name of Ohana in each of the three quartets (Hymne in Séquences, Sagittaire in Deuxième); this movement, fundamental in its sonorous poetry, from flamenco to Andalusian canto jondo developed from the depths of where it has to be extracted (and which is probably the source of this attraction for composition in tone-thirds (5) that allows a melodic continuity evoking the characteristic voice carriage), thus these snatches, these characteristic heaves (sff/pp) which completely hallmark his work, thus the Africa close to this pure and ever-roaming southerner (Mood from the Deuxième Quatuor -- Second Quartet, or the enjoining to the players right in the middle of the Troisième (Third) to "think of Thelonious Monk"), to say nothing of the Asia of Debussy's dreamlike pagodas (last page of Monodie). The players of his string quartets know very well: Maurice Ohana did not so much write music for quartet as "extract" the quartet from its tradition, in order to append it to his thinking and blend it into his private world where music came to him "from the light or even from the contemplation of certain landscapes I am searching for because they seem to belong more to the creation of the world than to our civilised lands".

Stéphane Goldet

(1) According to the declaration by Edith Canat de Chizy, composer and dedicator of the Deuxième Quatuor à cordes -- Second String Quartet (cf. Edith Canat de Chizy and François Porcile: Maurice Ohana, Paris, Fayard, 2004). With the “non Germans”, one can however note a tendency in the composition of first quartets which are not particularly “the works of youth” (Ohana was fifty when he tackled his first piece, Dutilleux and Fauré were older still...).

(2) La Revue Blanche, June 1st, 1901 (taken up in Monsieur Croche et autres écrits, p. 45).

(3) The "Zodiaque" conceived in opposition to the aesthetics of the "Jeune France" -- "Young France" (with in actual fact a wide variety of options, and of which Ohana's former master, Jean-Yves Daniel-Lescur, was a member, as well as Olivier Messiaen) -- "Jeune France" itself was conceived to make a fresh "Groupe des Six" "Group des Six" start: and so on and so forth… The "Zodiaque" only however enjoyed a short-lived existence of a few concerts between 1949 and 1950. In an era that swung round to ideological sectarianism, it was in fact a case of existing in the face of the "serial machine" launched with success by René Leibowitz (notably among the Conservatoire's "Messiaen class").

(4) The more eloquent tracela is found in the originally central movement of the five Séquences (Tympanium), alas subsequently renounced by the composer. Because the most dear to his heart and, at the time, not having found a convincing player?

(5) Owing to the nine commas contained in a tone, composition in tone-thirds is in fact more fluid and natural that that in tone-quarters despite being more frequently used starting from the 1960s (Lutoslawski: Quartet, 1964). Independence, independence forever...

Quotations taken from the preface by Pierre Boulez to the book “Quatuors du XXe siècle” (S. Goldet, Actes Sud-Papiers, 1986) [“20th century Quartets” by S. Goldet, published by Actes Sud-Papiers, 1986], as well as statements by friends or relatives found on the composer’s internet site (mauriceohana.com). The author would also very much like to thank Edith Canat de Chizy for the information she most graciously agreed to provide.

The press covers it !

figaro
« British citizen born in Casablanca of Spanish parents, Frenchman Maurice Ohana (1913-1992) was one of the most important composers of the second half of the 20th century, but is he genuinely recognised at his true value? Combining the refinement of a Debussy air with the dissonance of Arab-Andalusian music, his writing found its fulfilment in the voice and the piano, of which this student of Lazare Lévy at the Paris Conservatoire was a virtuoso. But his music of such poetic wealth also achieved particular expression in his three relatively unknown Quartets which are discovered here, magnificently upheld by the four young women of the Psophos Quartet. »

"Disks of the week", 18th november 2004, Christian Merlin and Bertrand Dicale

libe
« Beginning as a piano prodigy (he even accompanied La Argentina!), Maurice Ohana got into composing through the teaching of Daniel-Lesur as well as the sponsorship of Dutilieux. A stubborn partisan of dissonance to the end, he belongs to the individualist, modernist wing of antiserial reactionaries. […] An item that rounds out this portrait of Ohana is the new recording of his three string quartets by the young women of the renowned Quator Psophos – collected, lyrical pieces that intensify a language that is still classic. »

Libération, 26th november 2004, Gérard Dupuy

arte
« The string quartets of Maurice Ohana are not easily accessible works. The music is demanding and complex; one must give it time to reveal its secrets and unfold, like cities whose beauties are born out of shadows. There is, manifestly, a mystery to be probed, and one that neither the structure nor the language used by the composer can be used to penetrate. Rather, we must let ourselves go with the music and allow it to invoke images for us, in order to taste it. Because there is plenty to say. First of all, precisely because this music plays on our imaginations, as if it were using sounds to build a world that is almost palpable. And because it often spreads out like a travelling shot over some still landscape, enlivened only by sudden bursts of blinding sunlight here and there. This is to say, of course, that there is a feel of cinematography to this way of formulating a work – like a movie that is practically without narration, made with only the bare essentials: images and editing. The succession of views, cross-dissolves, and poetic images takes the place of reality. And all of this can be found in Ohana’s work, which has now been magnified through the spotless performance of the Quator Psophos. »

Arte, December 2004, Mathias Heizmann

classica
rep
« Just like the Three Musketeers, the Three Graces are in fact four and they make up the Psophos quartet. These outstanding ladies offer a recording that would and will make the most unwilling love contemporary music: "You don't like contemporary music? You haven't heard the Psophos quartet performing Maurice Ohana's quartets!" It should be added that Maurice Ohana is an atypical composer with a personal language that frees itself of all aesthetic, stylistic schools of thought, most notably the German dodecaphonic school. Utterly poetic, Ohana privileges a subtle and rigorous writing – invoking the plainsong in his First Quartet – with a Mediterranean lyricism (notably Andalusian and African in the Second and Third Quartets), centering his work on timbre -- hence the use of third tones and a modern playing of string instruments (harmonics, bow sticks, slapped pizzicati, etc.). Ohana completely changes the way quartets are written, adapting it to his language and freeing it from the traditional polyphonic style. Nothing is missing from this recording, especially not the precision of the ensemble and the remarkable homogeneity of sound. Their energy results in a very sure and tense bow, ideal for "those sharp, characteristic contrast -- sff-pp -- that are Ohana’s signature throughout his works”, as the liner notes say. From this energy, even in the most abrupt cuts, a most beautiful sound emerges, far from the interpretations that one finds too often in this repertoire. As for the accuracy, even the third tones sound with perfect precision. The harmonic encounters take place without the slightest hesitation. With a disconcerting facility the four musicians seem completely at home with this music that requires all "modern" string instrument techniques, investing it with a rare commitment and pleasure. Endowed with an overflowing expressive palette, an incredible variety of vibratos, a wonderful sound but also much more intimate when necessary, these young women know how to do everything. With an extraordinary authority, they perfectly render the structure of the Quartets, so that the listener is never lost, although the music is far from easy. And it is precisely this ease they impress into the music that seduces us. Every moment is inspired and placed in the context of the works, whose different movements are marvelously unified. Thanks to the incredible subtlety and the amazing technical and tonal perfection, one falls into an admirative state of religious meditation while listening to this work, which is particularly rare, especially in such a repertoire, and one only hopes for one thing: that it should last. Full of feeling, intensely lived, perfectly rendered, all this is beautiful, because the Psophos Quartet never forgets the aesthetic aspect, which is usually neglected. Yes, it is modern, and beautiful! So, our Four Graces have performed the feat to become a long-lasting reference in these works and to secure a prominent place in the closed circle of the young French quartets. Let us hope that the Psophos Quartet will confirm this later on in a more traditional repertoire, as their first Mendelssohn recording for Zig-Zag Territoires foreshadows. »

Classica-Répertoire, February 2005, Antoine Mignon

classica2
rep2
« Discophage : les meilleures prises de son
Le Quatuor Psophos s'avère d'une maîtrise technique époustouflante, qui lui permet une beauté sonore constante, même à travers les techniques de jeu les plus modernes, du pizzicato claqué aux tiers de ton. Et la captation s'avère d'une pureté et d'une précision impeccable, restituant les quatre instruments parfaitement individualisés dans l'espace avec leurs sonorités charnues et une présence phénoménale, dans les moments les plus recueillis comme dans les plus éclatants.  »

March 2005, Philippe van den Bosch

diapason
5diapason
« This is, as far as we know, the only recorded version of the three Quartets by Maurice Ohana. The first of them, although it is called Five Sequences (1963), is performed here without the central Tympanum, which the Psophos Quartet decided to skip, in accordance with the composer’s own wish (this movement is expected to appear in the version that the Danel Quartet plans to record for Timpani). Polyphony, Monody, Descant, Hymn: the titles suggest the variety of the techniques that are used, as well as a reference to medieval vocal music. Written in an austere, rough-shaped language, that has the dryness of a vine stock, this work is irrigated with a welcome sap (Monody) which sets the tormented Hymn on fire. In the Second Quartet (1980) the ritualistic language is broadened to the dimensions of Andalusian cante jondo and of Negro spirituals. A very epidermic Sagittarius foreshadows the cabalistic jerks of Alborada before the wonderful last movement, Faran-Ngô, whose orchestral version is known as Crypt (1980). The Psophos affirm with the same conviction the telluric might of the Third Quartet, Sorgin-Ngô (1989), whose metric tail treads on chalk and ochre. The young French Quartet, whose performance was being awaited, takes over this music with a feverish meticulousness, combining plenitude of sound and driving energy, iron bow and velvet hair. »

Diapason, February 2005, Nicolas Baron

resmus
« Created in 1997 at the Lyon National Conservatory, the award-winning Psophos Quartet (Psophos being Greek for "musical sound") have earned in particular a First Grand Prize at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Contest in September 2001. They have since been invited to the greatest concert halls and festivals worldwide (Amsterdam Concertgebouw, London Wigmore Hall, The Folles Journées de Nantes, The Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts...), sharing their passion for chamber music with numerous French soloists (Jean-Claude Pennetier, Alain Meunier, Frank Braley...). This CD, the first recording by the Psophos Quartet, which features the complete Quartets by Maurice Ohana and has earned the Maurice Ohana and the Mécénat Musical Société générale Awards, is a clear witness to the curiosity and inventiveness of this fully feminine ensemble, a peculiarity worth noticing. There is nothing traditional in the universe of these three Quartets, which go radically against the German heritage and the law of counterpoint towards the personal musical world of the composer. The refined timbres, the echo of African rhythms and instruments which exert a fascination on Ohana, the extreme diversity of textures that can be either fluid or compact, homogenous or scattered all nurture the lines of his quartets, as well as his vocal music or his piano works. Fully involved in the search for colors and specific textures that require very diverse ways of playing, the Psophos Quartet displays a perfect mastery of third-tone inflexions, which Ohana particularly likes, and truly tends to become a sound generator, shaping an ever-changing sonorous object. The titles of the four movements of the First Quartet allude to four kinds of writing -- Polyphony, Monody, Descant and Hymn -- which trace back to remotely evoked medieval roots. The final Hymn features a homophonous and vertical writing for the four interpreters which requires, as in Messiaen’s works, a perfect synchronization in gestures and energies on the part of the quartet, whose qualities of sound and richness in the timbre palette can be fully enjoyed here. The Second Quartet is even stranger and more mysterious in its musical itinerary, showing different universes in each of the four movements -- Sagittarius, Mood, Alborada, Faran-Ngô. Sagittarius: contrast between the elasticity and smoothness of the sound path on the one hand and the rockier work done on some more tormented surfaces on the other. In Mood, the deep pizzicati of the flat strings evoke the mysterious echo of hide percussions perturbing the calm of big instrumental layers. A luminous vibration pervades Alborada, irradiating the sonorous matter, whereas Faran-Ngô seems to sum up in its uneven terrain the extreme diversity of the instrumental playing that is deployed in the whole score. The Third Quartet, Sorgin-Ngô, written in one stretch, is structured on the contrast between languor and irruption, murmur and clamor. After almost savagely pulsed episodes come tender, sensual stretches of pure and sonorous poetry. With an energy and a sound potential that serve musical inventiveness, the Psophos Quartet takes us into these mysterious faraway lands and these dreamlike landscapes, displaying a total artistic commitment in order to reach the essence of a sonorous poetics that is always flirting with emotion. This superb recording completes Ohana’s discography and coincides with the imminent release of a now essential monograph about the composer written by Edith Canat de Chizy and François Porcille and published by Fayard. »

ResMusica.com, 7th January 2005, Michèle Tosi

cresc
joker
« Maurice Ohana remains the least renowned of the greatest composers of the second half of the past century, so much so that in many countries even his name elicits no recognition! And who knows that among other works, he has enriched the string quartet repertoire with three major scores? These are no doubt his least known works and their first recording, twelve years after his death, is an event of its own right. All his music stands on the opposite pole of the German tradition, a proudly heralded rejection which conjures up the challenge of giving up polyphony almost entirely. Yet polyphony seems inseparable from the quartet genre itself, along with the resulting dialectic thought made of contrasts and thematic developments. These pages therefore are set quite apart from all the masterpieces of the genre and concentrate on other discourse elements: monodic or at least heterophonic melos, rhythm variety and profusion, extraordinary harmonic refinement and, last but not least, the timbre, the work on the sound, which sets Ohana at the very center of the dominant trend of today’s young musical avant-garde. The intimate essence of these works is the magic and enchantment that come in the rituals, those of the Andalusian Cante jondo or those of Jazz, two of the main sources of inspiration for Maurice Ohana, who was also in search of the archetypical or even pre-historic origins of music. Of course, we are far from Haydn and Beethoven, a little closer to Bartók, whose “nocturne”-like pieces are faintly reflected in the Five Sequences, where the composer’s universe and distinctly personal language are however fully present. The Second Quartet is the most intimate and secret and maybe the least easily accessible, but it probably contains the most enthralling sound inventions. The Third Quartet, finally, is one of Ohana’s great late works and a grandiose achievement, the vastest of his Quartets, although of one piece, possibly more “classical” than the others and containing, in particular, a brief but extraordinary tribute to Thelonius Monk. Even though this is not known yet (this CD will spread the word), it is, quite simply, one of the crowning masterpieces of the genre, and not only in the twentieth century! This release by a small independent label, whose distribution will hopefully be widespread enough (it certainly found its way to our review!), is an event of paramount importance. Thanks to this CD, the opera La Célestine will be the last huge gap in Ohana’s discography. »

Crescendo, February-March 2005, Harry Halbreich

lib
« Demanding and Free
We found out about the Psophos Quartet some time ago when they were playing a Mendelssohn repertoire and boy (or should I write “girl”!), did these four young women make a big impression… And today, to our great pleasure, we have the confirmation of Ayako Tanaka’s and her accomplices’ talent in a universe that may not be misogynous but remains rather masculine. The Psophos have had the great idea of recording the complete Quartets by Maurice Ohana, that great enchanter and diviner. And while offering what will be for many listeners a magnificent discovery, the Psophos Quartet also provide us with an opportunity to remind one and all that the musician’s creed has not lost one ounce of its relevance. More than ever, we have to “defend the liberty of the musical language against all aesthetic tyrannies”. The softest are not the least dangerous... »

La Libre Essentielle, March 2005

classic
« That Maurice Ohana (1914-1992) wrote quartets may come as a surprise, especially since he was not commissioned to do so. Indeed, this genre is mainly associated with the German and Austrian musical tradition that the composer kept at a distance. Ohana uses the quartet as an instrumental formation and as a writing technique, in order to deepen certain aspects of his discourse and his aesthetics. The First Quartet dates back to 1963 – the same year the Tombeau de Claude Debussy was composed. It was originally divided in five parts, but Ohana scrapped the central section (Tympanum) and it is somewhat regrettable that the interpreters did not reintroduce it in this version. Every movement is a reference to medieval writing techniques (Polyphony-Monody-Dechant-Hymn). Third tones are abundantly used in this work, giving it its rugged, original and archaic character. Ohana’s particular taste for the non-classical musical traditions is also present in the Second Quartet (1980), which hints at the “cante jondo” and to African music, be it under its original shape or under the shape of Gospel music. The last Quartet, Sorgin-Ngô (1989), is made up of a single, well-rounded 24-minute movement and was composed at the same time as the opera La Célestine. It is dominated by complex rhythms, massive-sounding effects and everything that implies harshness and mineral hardness. It is hard to underestimate the interest of this release that gives access to three hitherto little known masterpieces of contemporary music. This CD is also the first commercial recording by the Psophos Quartet, an exclusively feminine quartet born in 1997 and already well-known. For its four young members, it was no small feat to start with these not so renowned and very demanding works and this recording is a success. The instrumental qualities of the musicians are extraordinary: they are always right on key (particularly with the third tones !) and at ease in the variety of musical colors or the powerful rhythm and volume effects of the Third Quartet. The revelation of three masterpieces therefore comes with the revelation of a great string quartet. What’s next? »

ClassicsToday France, Jacques Bonnaure

amg
« Listeners unfamiliar with Maurice Ohana (1914-1992), a composer of mixed heritage – British citizen born in North Africa of Spanish parents, studied in Rome, finally settled in Paris – should read Lindsay Koob’s informative review of his choral music (Sept-Oct 2004). As Koob points out, Ohana was one of a kind: "a lonely phenomenon – a small (around 50 works) but important musical movement of sorts unto himself". Ohana was fascinated by exotic and primitive music and tried to evolve a kind of modern recreation of it using avant-garde devices. The result is dense but vibrant, austere but sensuous, impressionist but abstract, oblique but striking, new but ancient. There are kinships with Bartok, with Berg, and more clearly with the extatic, visionary music of Messiaen and Dutilleux – but Ohana is fiercer, more rugged. Like the harsh landscapes that it evokes, his music is never pretty but it can be achingly beautiful. As Koob says, "It demands patience, concentration, and repeated listening". To be honest I’ve never enjoyed Ohana’s music until now. It just seemed too forbidding and too formless. To my surprise, however, I was quickly drawn into these quartets. The intricate textures and unusual string devices – unsynchronized pizzicatos, glissandos, and harmonics, rattling col legnos, microtonal clusters, keening and florid recitatives, off-center ostinatos, and so on – seem absolutely integral to the music argument rather than superficial, attention-getting decoration. The music has rock-solid integrity and a "rightness" and logic that, however unconventional, make sense right from the beginning. And it simply burns with an expressive fervor that recalls Bloch at his most intense (for example, his coruscating Violin Sonata). The Psophos Quartet play like they’re possessed, and their white-hot intensity and superb ensemble are wonderfully captured in Ar Ré-Sé’s holographic recorded sound. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but adventurous ears will find it richly rewarding. I hope the Psophos Quartet will continue to explore this sort of neglected repertoire. There are fine quartets by Barraud, by Nikiprowetsky, and by modern composers in the French tradition that I’d love to hear them play. »

American Record Guide, Lehman