The Eroica Quartet
Gustav Clarkson, vl
Vicci Wardman, vl
Peter Hanson, vn
David Watkin, vc
In Britain, the Eroica Quartet, founded in 1993 by four of the country’s leading period-instrument performers, have the field virtually to themselves. Three of the members are principals in John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (which specialises in early 19th-century repertoire) and the Eroica have focused on the quartets of the same era, especially works by Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn, written in the shadow of Beethoven. (Andrew Clements, The Guardian, September 13, 2003)
In somewhat of a departure for the quartet, their 2012 recording features two early 20th century masterpieces: the Debussy and Ravel string quartets. Although the Debussy was written at the very end of the 19th century it looks forward to the 20th in every respect.
Recordings of these two works are thick on the ground but the Eroica manages to carve out a niche with their use of gut strings and period stylistic techniques such as portamento.
Ravel: String Quartet – Third Movement
The use of gut strings should not deter anyone from wanting to hear these performances—after all, as we are reminded in Nigel Simeone’s excellent liner notes, metal strings were not commonly used until the 1920s, and thus it is a virtual certainty that Debussy (who composed his quartet in the early 1890s) and Ravel (who composed his a decade later) first heard these works performed on instruments similar to those we hear here. As for the performance techniques employed by the Eroica, which include the sparing use of vibrato, the generous use of portamento, and the occasional use of special bowing, it is likely that, unless you are a fan of or at least agnostic about HIP esthetics, this recording will not instantly appeal to you. Before you write it off, however, you should know that, in his notes, Simeone makes a persuasive case that it is also quite likely that the ensembles that premiered and performed these works during the first few decades of their existence also used at least some of the techniques we hear here. (Radu A. Lelutiu, Fanfare Magazine, Issue 35:5, May/June 2012)