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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Piano Quintet in F (1878/9) [37:48]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Piano Quartet in A, Op. 30 (1898) [36:16]
Spiegel String Quartet
rec. Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen, January 2005
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG64413512 [74:17]
a tendency in some quarters to dismiss Franck's Piano Quintet
as not "true" chamber music, as if it somehow were
so indiscreet as to overstep the form's proper bounds and ambitions.
This is not, presumably, because of the composer's extended
chromatics. After all, Zemlinsky, to take an example, wrote
quartets in a similarly advanced harmonic language without
similar opprobrium. It’s because of Franck's way of constructing
peak sonorities by pitting strings in octaves against big supporting
chords from the piano, in much the same manner as he uses string
and wind groupings in his symphonic works. The octave writing
isn't such a problem for a large string body within which minute
tuning discrepancies among the players will cancel each other
out. But it's a nightmare for solo players, who haven't anywhere
to hide. Still, in a good performance of the quintet, the climaxes
feel logical and inevitable, and you don't notice the
sonority, which is the point.
this is by way of telling you that Michiels and the Spiegel
Quartet do quite a good job with Franck's quintet. In the first
movement, the string players have a marvelous feel for the
ebb and flow of the motifs being tossed back and forth. Michiels
layers the arpeggiated accompanying figurations into separate "voices" -
rather as one might, say, in a Chopin nocturne - drawing welcome
variety from the piano part. The forte octaves of the
coda, with Michiels's resounding chords providing solid support,
pose no tuning problems for these string players. In the more
conventionally chamber-like writing of the other two movements,
the artists infuse their playing with vibrant depth and feeling.
and Franck sometimes get lumped together, just as Mahler and
Bruckner are, and with about as little real justification.
They were both French Romantics who favored highly chromatic
harmony, but the differences between them are striking. Franck's
linear, "horizontal" writing, reflecting the musical
thinking of a lifelong professional organist, weaves rich sonorities
out of individual musical strands; it's music based in counterpoint.
Chausson's writing, like that of most of the French post-Wagnerians,
is based in harmony, more "vertical," as if the chords
were conceived in whole cloth. He replaces Franck's formal
rigor - always present, even in that composer's most agitated
moments - with a long-breathed surge and sweep. In climaxes,
Chausson calls on the strings, rather than the piano, to fill
out the sonority, and even when he occasionally deploys the
strings in octaves, the effect is different: the lower voices
intensify the upper ones, rather than vice versa. No, definitely
not the same beast at all.
Spiegel players adjust to the very different requirements of
Chausson's four-movement quartet with aplomb - the light, lean
tone the strings produced in the Franck here becomes richer
and more vibrant, and the players dig into the supporting chords
nicely. The first movement, after the piano's unexpectedly
jaunty opening statement, softens its edges and settles into
the broad sweep previously noted, developing its motifs convincingly.
The sustained, stoic lyricism of the slow movement, Très
calme, expands into more yearning gestures before returning
to grimness. In place of a true scherzo, there follows a waltz,
quirky in its harmonic turns, yet elegant in the French manner.
The closing Animé pits a busy, turbulent first group,
with arpeggios vaulting through the texture, opposite an impassioned
second group with a strong forward impulse, drawing big, dramatic
effects from the contrast. There's a surprise at 9:17, when
a shimmering violin scale initiates an episode of unexpected
tenderness, before the music proceeds to a firm, forthright
and comparatively unfamiliar music, excellent performances
- what more could you want?
Stephen Francis Vasta
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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