Saint-Saëns: String Quartets No. 1 and 2

*****(5 stars) Excellent performance and compositions -- don't miss out! Awesome and underplayed string quartets by a French master. The playing is also top-notch. The recording quality is also good.

(Gil "musique_classique",, December 11, 2013) Full review

"The recording by the Fine Arts Quartet is an excellent recording. Very clear sound; outstanding technique" 

(Novelette, Talk Classical, Jan. 7 2013) Full review

"This recording is the work of one of our oldest and finest quartets, the Fine Arts, which with Naxos’s help has established a small cottage industry devoted to outstanding music we might otherwise not have heard. The production values are notable. It is consistently remarkable the way Saint-Saens harmonizes his melodic line, and it is almost as impressive the way Naxos makes sure we hear it." 

(William Bender, American Record Guide, May 2012)

"The Fine Arts Quartet performs them with a light and genial air. While they are serious musicians who are wholly committed to the music, they leave an impression that their playing is almost effortless, and they utterly avoid pretentiousness. Naxos provides clean sound with a pleasant acoustic that gives the strings depth and added color." (Blair Sanderson, All Music Guide, May 2012)   Full review

"The Fine Arts Quartet can do no wrong; I'd listen to them doing backup for Pepsi commercials. If theirs is old-style playing, lets hear it for old-style playing!" (Canzone, Apr 4, 2012)

"His [Saint-Saens'] chamber music is elegant and refined, among the best of the late romantic period...For this post I have picked a Naxos recording of his beautiful and virtually unknown string quartets, composed in 1899 and 1918. Excellent playing by the Fine Arts Quartet. Very rewarding music, highly recommended."  (Art Rock, Artrock2006.blogspot, January 25, 2012)     Full review

"Saint-Saens' two string quartets...championed by a venerable American quartet which has been active touring and recording for over half a century, three of its members with them for nearly thirty years...Definitely well worth hearing, and for quartets wanting to extend their repertoires to consider taking up."  (Peter Grahame Woolf, Musical Pointers, November 2011)  Full review

**** "Il Quartetto Fine Arts...punta tutte le sue carte sulla tenuta formale, senza tralasciare perrò lirismo e bel suono anche nelle parti più vigorose. La compattezza e l'eleganza dell'ensemble americano emergono anche all'ascolto del Quartetto per archi n.2" 

(Massimo Viazzo, Musica, November 2011)  Full review

"Die Mitglieder des Fine Arts Quartets sind allesamt internationale Spitzenmusiker, die größtenteils seit mehreren Jahrzehnten zusammen spielen. Da entfaltet sich mühelose Perfektion, die wunderbar zur erhabenen musiko-logischen Stringenz von Saint-Saëns’ klassischer Komposition paßt."  (Harald Reiter,, 18.10.2011)  Full review

"The KBAQ CD of the Week: Saint-Saens String Quartets: The Fine Arts Quartet has received rave reviews for their Mendelssohn recording, and now they've recorded two neglected quartets by Saint-Saens." 

(Sterling Beeaff,, September 23, 2011)  

"I gave a rave recommendation to the group’s Naxos recording of Fauré’s two piano quintets in which they were joined by pianist Cristina Ortiz...and I offer an equally strong endorsement of the ensemble’s new Saint-Saëns CD...Technically secure and poised...and the sound of the ensemble as it’s captured by Naxos is full and vibrant... I personally know of no other ensemble that plays them better than the Fine Arts Quartet." (Jerry Dubins, Fanfare, September, 2011)  

"The Fine Arts Quartet are up to their usual impressive standards: this is an ensemble with a rich, velvety, unabashedly romantic sound, and often seems incapable of being anything other than achingly beautiful. In the last two minutes of the Second Quartet’s adagio they are breathtaking. I’d listen to them play nearly anything from this time period, and they validate that trust here. The recorded sound (intriguingly, the sessions were in a monastery library) is intimate, warm, and ideally suited to the quartet’s unique style; ...the look at an unexplored side of Saint-Saëns, by a quartet of this caliber, is not to be missed." (Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International, August, 2011)  Full Review

"Naxos has issued a fascinating CD of Saint-Saëns String Quartets (8.572454) played by the Fine Arts Quartet...The Fine Arts Quartet has been around since 1946; three of the current members have been there for at least 28 years. Their playing here is of the highest level."

(Terry Robbins, The WholeNote, July 2011)  Full Review

***** "String Quartet Masterpieces! Saint-Saëns was a prolific composer of chamber music, and this album showcases him at his brilliantly creative best. These two string quartets are masterpieces of the late Romantic style, played with great verve by the Fine Arts Quartet. In my opinion these quartets are at least the equal of Dvorak's string quartets. At this price, they're irresistible."

(, July 2011)  Full Review

"The Fine Arts Quartet's new recording of the Saint-Saens String Quartets comes up with more revelations...Ardent performances demand a reappraisal of an underestimated composer." (William Dart, The New Zealand Herald, July 16, 2011)   Full Review

"The Fine Arts Quartet is a distinguished ensemble: its current line-up is very impressive, and they make an extremely convincing case for these two little-known quartets. Recorded in the Netherlands, this disc is beautifully engineered and can be unconditionally recommended to anyone with a taste for 19th-century chamber music."  (Robert Johnson, Radio New Zealand, 10 & 15 July 2011)   

"Das Fine Arts Quartet, eines der ‚Haus-Quartette‘ von Naxos, scheint die ideale Besetzung für die Streichquartette von Saint-Saëns zu sein. Sie spielen jederzeit mit vollem Einsatz und Risiko und pflegen einen spätromantischen, vollen Klang mit viel, aber variablem Vibrato, immer wieder auch geschmackvollen Glissandi, wo es musikalisch passt, und strukturieren die Stücke vorbildlich mit einem sehr natürlichen Gefühl für Übergänge und Schwankungen im Tempo. Der Primarius Ralph Evans meistert seinen schwierigen Part, insbesondere im ersten Quartett makellos und gönnt sich dabei noch wunderbare Freiheiten etwa bei seinen Kontrapunkten im wilden zweiten Satz des ersten Quartetts. Eine brillante Einspielung...Schön dass Naxos diese Repertoire-Lücke im eigenen Katalog endlich geschlossen hat." 

(Christian Starke,, 08.07.2011) Full review

"En fin, dos cuartetos que podrán gustar más o menos, pero que merecen ser conocidos porque en ellos brilla la inteligente pluma de Saint-Saëns, no siempre suficientemente valorado. La agrupación Fine Arst Quartet, fue fundada en Chicago en 1946, habiendo realizado un buen número de grabaciones y giras por todo el mundo. El cuarteto de solistas se muestra sólido, resuelto y con una elegante plasticidad desprovista de innecesarios manierismos. Un fraseo muy cuidado, en el que todo resulta dúctil, fluido y desenvuelto."

(Joaquim Zueras, Sinfonía Virtual, Nº 20, Julio, 2011)  Full Review

"...une démonstration brillante de savoir-faire et de profondeur stylistique de la part d’un homme arrivé en fin de parcours avec un bagage intellectuel et artistique d’un niveau exceptionnel. Interprétations justes et soignées.  

(Frédéric Cardin,, July 1, 2011)  Full review

"Music to change minds: two quartets that show Saint-Saëns’s hidden depths. The Fine Arts Quartet continue their admirable series (Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Franck and Fauré) with Saint-Saëns’s two string quartets. And here they make a persuasive case for music that is not only “brilliantly crafted” but “serious and intellectual” (their leader Ralph Evans). Certainly the First Quartet in E minor in particular is a reminder of music beyond the elegant facility with which Saint-Saëns is habitually credited. He may have “produced music as an apple tree produces apples” (his own words) but later in his life the string quartet provided him with a special challenge. There is urgency as well as charm, and an expressive range that makes Fauré’s lifelong admiration understandable. The first-movement development is intricate and dramatic, and the second movement’s syncopation is again urgent rather than lightweight. There is major-key relief in the Second Quartet, composed in the spirit of Mozart and with the first movement’s celebration of youth clouded by an awareness of old age in the Molto adagio - Andantino (with his typically dry humour, Saint-Saëns dismissed it as “deadly dull”). But there is nothing dull about the Fine Arts’ playing. Excellently balanced and recorded, they bring fervour and commitment to music which will cause many listeners to reconsider Saint-Saëns’s musical standing."  (Bryce Morrison, Gramophone, June 2011) 

"Die vier Musiker des ‘Fine Arts Quartet’ zeigen ihre Kunst einmal mehr in Werken, die nicht gerade zum geläufigen Repertoire gehören, und werden aus Überzeugung zu erstklassigen Anwälten der beiden Quartette von Camille Saint- Saëns...Das erste Quartett fasziniert mit einem melancholisch und hintergründig brodelnden ersten Satz, einem virtuosen zweiten Satz, einem wunderbar kantablen, tief empfundenen Adagio und einem nervös dramatischen Finalsatz. Im dreisätzigen Quartett op. 153 hatte Saint-Saëns kein so reich gefülltes Füllhorn an kompositorischen Einfällen zur Verfügung. Aber, was an Einfallskraft fehlt, macht das Fine Arts Quartet mit typisch französischer Eleganz wett. Und so haben wir es denn hier mit einer wirklich ganz hervorragenden Kammermusik-CD zu tun."  

(Remy Franck, Pizzicato, June 2011)  Full Review

"Saint-Saëns ”String Quartets” med Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos): här möter några av musikhistoriens vackraste, mest rikhaltiga och mest komplexa verk – och med uttolkare som denna ensemble blir resultatet fantastiskt. Att lyssna på denna skiva är som att besöka ett själsligt spa."  (Björn Gustavsson,, June 26, 2011)  Full Review

"Much credit here has to go to the Fine Arts Quartet. They’ve been around many years and their poise, commitment and overall finish show these excellent works in their best light. A must-discover side of Saint-Saëns, if you haven’t already."

(James Manishen, Winnipeg Free Press, June 11, 2011)  Full Review

"The Fine Arts Quartet has had many changes of personnel over the years, but its standard of playing has never been less than superb—as is the case with these quartets, with much presence and warm sound in the recording." 

(Giv Cornfield, Ph.D., The New Recordings, Cliff's Classics, June 2011)

***** "In this new CD the Fine Arts Quartet offers romantic, committed performances of both quartets, recorded in 2009 in the Wittem Monastery, The Netherlands. The recording should encourage lovers of chamber music to get to know these works...This is a venerable group indeed and the quartet plays together with large tone, unity, and passion." 

(Robin Friedman,, May 27, 2011) Full Review

***** "A beautiful late flowering...Saint-Saens remained a prodigy to the end of his long life. Although his style went out of fashion, he continued to write beautifully crafted melodic music in the French tradition of clarity and wit, within these late quartets a new profundity of expression, to which the Fine Arts Quartet are very sensitive...With this recording we can appreciate their beauty undisturbed and they will repay repeated playings, each time revealing some new subtlety. The sound is exceptional and the disc offers remarkable value, like all Naxos recordings." (Peterjohndean,, May 21, 2011)  Full Review

"The distinguished American group, the Fine Arts Quartet, believes in this music...[and] is equal to all Saint-Saëns' demands for swift changes of mood and technical virtuosity...To my ears they are impeccable, producing singing tone and unfailing homogeneity; I could not imagine finer advocacy of these neglected quartets. They are not easy listening but repeated encounters will, I am sure, pay dividends to the dedicated chamber music enthusiast."  (Ralph Moore, MusicWeb International, May 11, 2011)  Full Review

**** "Saint-Saëns’s cleverness and his creation of music intended to delight the ear are well known, and his string quartets offer both these characteristics in abundance...The Fine Arts Quartet plays the [first] work with sure-fingered mastery and excellent give-and-take among the instruments. The players do equally well with the very late second quartet." (, May 05, 2011) Full Review

"A welcome release of two rarely heard French quartets" (David Denton, The Strad, May 2011)

***** "The Fine Arts Quartet is equal to all Saint-Saëns' demands for swift changes of mood and technical virtuosity...To my ears they are impeccable, producing singing tone and unfailing homogeneity; I could not imagine finer advocacy of these neglected quartets." 

(Ralph Moore,, April 26, 2011)  Full Review

 "The Fine Arts Quartet are vibrant and thoughtful." (The Sunday Times,  1st May 2011)

Sunday Times

 "The Fine Arts Quartet performs them with a light and genial air. While they are serious musicians who are wholly committed to the music, they leave an impression that their playing is almost effortless, and they utterly avoid pretentiousness. Naxos provides clean sound with a pleasant acoustic that gives the strings depth and added color." (Blair Sanderson, All Music Guide, May 2011)  Full Review

****  "Deserving more frequent performances than they receive, Saint-Saëns’s two string quartets find persuasive champions in the Fine Arts Quartet...Each work is as carefully crafted as it is extremely pleasurable to hear."  

(Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph, 1st April 2011)   Full Review

*****  "A long awaited recording. This recording comes to fill a gap in the romantic string quartet repertoire. Both quartets by Saint-Saëns are very beautiful and masterfully crafted. The Fine Arts Quartet sounds as fresh as ever, colourful and communicative. A really welcome addition to the Chamber Music world of recordings." (Pablo Saraví,, October 15, 2010)   Full Review