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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
String Quartet in D major (1889) [47:44]
Violin Sonata in A major (1886) [29:35]
Fitzwilliam Quartet: (Christopher Rowland, Jonathan Sparey (violins); Alan George (viola); Ioan Davies (cello))
Pierre Amoyal (violin); Pascal Rogé (piano)
rec. The Maltings Concert Hall, Snape, October 1978 (Quartet) ADD; Barbirolli Hall (St. Clement Danes School), Chorleywood, May 1994 (Sonata). DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 8463 [77:23]

Here we have an example of what happens when record companies delve into their archives and try to find CD homes for LP era analogue and other digital recordings. This disc contains a 1978 recording of Franck’s string quartet coupled with a 1993 digital recording of his famous violin sonata. One imagines a repertoire director trying to figure out what will go along with a 48 minute string quartet recorded almost thirty years ago. However the present pairing is a good one as it brings together two of Franck’s three important chamber work as well as providing us with some very fine playing.
The Violin Sonata is one of the most popular works in the genre and scores of recordings exist, with yet more if you include arrangements for cello or flute. The potential variety is intensified by the fact that for much of the work one feels that one is listening to a piece for two equal instruments rather than a typical violin-dominant sonata. Pierre Amoyal’s approach is one that is unhurried and where beauty of sound is very important. In the opening Allegretto this approach serves to make one pay new attention to something that one has heard many times before. However by the time the recapitulation began I felt that a little more vivace would have been helpful. Amoyal’s deliberate approach continues in the second movement. Here however it tends to make the scherzo section bog down while producing breathtaking playing in the trio. Amoyal has an excellent sense of structure in the slow movement, but seems to be less interested in this than in the first two movements. He finds the final Allegretto more to his taste, though I would have preferred a little more energy here. It should be mentioned that Pascal Rogé ably contributes throughout and is especially notable in the Allegro.
This version of the Franck String Quartet was recorded when the Fitzwilliam was at close to its original membership, It provides a fine example of their playing. The ensemble work is very good and demonstrates a conversational approach that in its restraint and attention to line is little heard nowadays. In spite of the age of the recording, the playing is of such quality as to make this disc preferable to most recent recordings. It merits serious consideration by anyone looking for this piece.
Obviously recordings made in 1978 and 1994 are going to vary greatly in sound quality, which effect is only increased by the difference in venues.  The Quartet recording suffers less than one might expect because the intimacy of the sonics at the Maltings concentrates the sound so that the four musical lines are clearly heard. The recording in the Barbirolli Hall does not serve the violin and piano quite as well. The piano is miked too closely and the violin sounds too far away. This will make non-fans of Amoyal look for another budget recording, although those seeking a recording of the quartet will be very pleased indeed.
William Kreindler



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