If CDs can be judged by their covers then this intriguing release from the Zurich-based Galatea Quartet could be Record of the Year. And with typical creativity they don’t pair the venerable Debussy Quartet with its usual Ravel bedfellow, but instead throw in Milhaud’s First Quartet. And what a pleasant surprise it is, a work of real lyrical beauty and elegiac sensibility, until the vibrant finale whose darting rhythms and jack-in-the-box mood-swings so suits the playing style of this seriously engaging and altogether contemporary-sounding ensemble. 

The Debussy too is excellently played, sounding crisp and fresh with the kind of youthful vigour, at which the Ebène are the current masters, and which typifies the current crop of outstanding new-generation string quartets. But perhaps most interest lies in the closing, three-movement Sonatine for String Quartet by Pierre Menu, a prodigiously gifted young French composer who at just 23 died from the effects of poison gas during the First World War. While the quasi-impressionist work itself isn’t especially individual, this world premiere recording does suggest that his premature loss to French music justified the grief expressed by his contemporaries. 

It’s a close-miked recording, making some instrumental timbres and studio noises a touch too immediate, but no one can deny that this is a group on the rise, with lots of interesting repertoire ideas to share.

Purchase this album on the iTunes Store: Belle Epoque – French Works for String Quartet – Galatea Quartet