Georges Delerue, best known for his film scores, also wrote music in “serious” genres, and none is more serious than the string quartet. These two are separated by nearly three decades, the first written when the composer was still a student in his early 20s, the latter in 1971. Both reveal the influence of Delerue’s teacher, Milhaud, in that the thematic material tends toward the polytonal, albeit with a distinctly songful flavor at key moments. Honegger also comes to mind now and then in the acerbic harmonic palette.
The First quartet is particularly interesting as it’s clearly modeled on Ravel’s single quartet, and although the material is quite different, it’s easy to hear the resemblance point by point, including such moments as the lyrical second subject of the first movement and the pizzicato opening of the scherzo (placed second). Both works are well worth hearing, if perhaps they aren’t ultimately memorable–time will tell–and they are played very sympathetically by the Claudel-Canimex Quartet, which lacks only that last ounce of bite and energy that perhaps a greater familiarity with the music would have encouraged.
The other works on the disc are slighter, and much closer to the popular, film-oriented Delerue than the quartets. The Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano are tuneful, charming, and wistful, and would make terrific recital encores. The first, Valse mélancolique, could stand in as another of Satie’s Gymnopedies, while the final Elegy is really touching. Prelude and Dance for Oboe and Piano has a bit more rhythmic fiber, as the title suggests, and the repertoire for this combination isn’t so extensive or interesting that oboists can afford not to give this piece more than a casual glance. Again, it would grace any recital program. The performances by both wind players and pianist Sara Laimon are wholly winning, and the engineering is very natural and well balanced. Worth hearing.