Ravel & Shostakovich for strings - Scottish Ensemble - The Sunday Herald

There's no shortage of music for string ensemble, but that doesn't stop inquisitive players seeking odd gaps in the repertoire. One such is offered by Ravel, composer of brilliant chamber music and scintillating orchestral scores, but not much in between. Clio Gould and the Scottish Ensemble have long wanted to play Ravel's atmospheric string quartet but there was no version available for their combination of instruments.

You could argue that a string ensemble is just a quartet 3 times over, and that you could play the music as writ except with more instruments, but the result would lack refinement. So you need an orchestrator to divide up the parts and redistribute them to suit the texture of a larger group of players.

Ravel was one of the best in the business, but he never tackled this piece, perhaps because his rival and friend Debussy pleased "In the name of God, you must not tamper with this quartet". In its original form it is certainly a rare beauty - romantic and delicate yet adventurous in harmony and texture - and you would need to be confident to change it. Who better than Rudolf Barshai, a violinist known for turning Shostakovich's harrowing eighth quartet into an even more powerful and mesmerising Chamber Symphony. The Scottish Ensemble asked him to arrange the Ravel and the result is this disc where it is performed alongside another Barshai/Shostakovich quartet arrangement, the tenth.

It is an unqualified success. It seems as though nothing is lost, but a whole world of subtle sonorities gained. The Ensemble play as responsively as any quartet and do Barshai proud. Expect to hear this performed everywhere as soon as word gets out.

The Sunday Herald
01 June 2003