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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The string quartets by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel rank among the most recorded string quartets, and they're also most often found together on the same recording. Debussy composed his quartet in 1893, Ravel a decade later. The musical style of both composers has been called impressionist, after the French painting tradition. And there's a new recording of the works from the Dante Quartet. Music critic Tom Manoff says it reminds him of the first time he heard the music.

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TOM MANOFF: When I was a young student, I liked every kind of classical music except the string quartet. Then I heard the Second Movement of Debussy's quartet, with its plucked, pizzicato rhythms and exotic melodies. And my ears opened to the possibilities of string quartet sound.

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MANOFF: Debussy's Third Movement also struck me as special. And listening these many years later, I'm still surprised by how the melodies glide with simplicity while moving in and out of sensuous, complex harmonies.

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MANOFF: Debussy's quartet remained my favorite for many years, but gradually the Ravel began to intrigue me more, especially through its contrasts between relaxation and surprise. Stir up too much energy in Ravel's music and it gets frothy; stir too little, and it tastes like skim milk. The Dante Quartet finds just the right balance for Ravel, especially when the composer is artfully lean.

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MANOFF: I'm open to many interpretations of these quartets, as if the music were an impressionist painting whose magic is that it never quite comes into focus. The Dante performances are etched more than most, as if they'd used fine brush strokes to carve musical shapes, rather than broad strokes that wouldve made more wash of the musical colors. It's a fine recording, and one that adds another revealing view of these masterpieces.

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SIEGEL: Tom Manoff reviewed the Dante Quartet's recording of the Debussy and Ravel string quartets on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. $00.00

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