> VIERNE Piano Quintet, String Quartet PV700011 [JQ]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Quintet for Piano and Strings, Op. 42* [30.35]
String Quartet, Op. 12 [22.25]
Athenaeum Enesco String Quartet (Constantin Bogdanas & Florin Szigeti (violins);
Dan Iarca (viola); Dorel Fodoreanu (cello)
*Gabriel Tacchino (piano)
Recorded at Adyar Hall, Paris in September, 1999
PIERRE VERANY PV700011 [53.35]


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If, like me, your knowledge of the music of Vierne is limited to his organ works and, perhaps, his fine Messe Solennelle, this CD may be something of a revelation. His six organ symphonies, composed between 1898 and 1934, are fairly well represented in the UK catalogue, as are some of his other organ works. There are also at least two recordings of the aforementioned Mass, which dates from 1899. However, so far as I know these two chamber works have not previously been available in the UK (though these are not claimed as premiere recordings, I see.)

The String Quartet, which is placed second on the disc, dates from about 1894 and is dedicated to Widor, with whom Vierne had been studying since Franck’s death in 1890. By the time the work was completed Vierne had been installed both as Widor’s assistant at the Paris Conservatoire and as his deputy at the organ of the church of St. Sulpice in Paris. In the informative liner notes we learn that Vierne’s pupil, Bernard Gavoty regarded the piece as "an application of the teachings of Widor." Apparently, Vierne came to feel that this early work was not especially important in his oeuvre. Nonetheless, the opportunity to hear it is most welcome.

It is cast in four movements. The first is a fairly genial affair with arching melodic lines which are frequently supported by syncopated rhythmic figurations. The scherzo-like Intermezzo is very brief, lasting less than three minutes. The emotional core of the work is the slow third movement which bears the tempo marking, ‘Andante, quasi adagio.’ In fact, the pace alternates between these two speeds. The opening material is a genuine adagio after which the second subject is more agitated and the tempo picks up to andante before returning to the reflective mood with which the movement began. The movement ends in tranquillity. The busy finale begins as a moto perpetuo, the progress of which is twice interrupted by a more lyrical subject. Towards the end Vierne introduces a fugue, rather unconvincingly, before a brief final reprise of the moto perpetuo. The Quartet is played with spirit and finesse by the Athenaeum Enesco Quartet, who are Roumanian but have been based in Paris since 1979.

They are joined by pianist, Gabriel Tacchino for the Piano Quintet. This is a work of much greater substance than its earlier companion. Partly, no doubt, this is because in the intervening period between the two compositions, Vierne had developed his compositional skills significantly. However, the circumstances which led to its composition undoubtedly account for its power. Written between 1917 and 1918, it was prompted by the death in action of Vierne’s son, Jacques, who was aged just 17. Vierne confided to a friend that he was "…building a votive offering, a Quintet of vast proportions, to convey the inspiration born of my tenderness and my child’s tragic death."

The work has three substantial movements, the first of which opens with a short introduction, which is dark and brooding and which is largely for the piano alone. The first subject of the movement proper is restless and dramatic. By contrast, the second subject is a noble, easeful melody which appears first on the cello. The whole movement is arresting and powerful and receives a performance which is worthy of it, culminating in a rapt account of the sublime coda (8’ 58" onwards).

The mood with which the first movement ended is carried over into its successor which begins with a ruminative viola solo. Although this movement s predominantly reflective in tone there are several passionate outbursts and even when the music seems to relax "tension lies lurking beneath its apparent calm", as the author of the notes observes. After a sustained and powerful climax this movement also ends in tranquillity.

The finale opens with striking piano chords which sound like a call to arms. This is the start of a pregnant introduction after which the turbulent music of the main allegro is driven relentlessly forward like some dreadful cavalry charge until an awestruck piano solo (5’18") ushers in a few moments of tense, ghostly calm. Then "the charge" resumes and the music hurtles to a dramatic end.

This Vierne Quintet is a significant discovery. It is imposingly played and the recorded sound is good. The piano tends to loom large at climaxes but this, I suspect, is principally due to Vierne’s writing rather than to any injudicious balancing by either Tacchino or the engineers. With informative notes, albeit sometimes awkwardly translated from the original French, this interesting release is warmly recommended to any lovers of French music or of chamber music who wish to explore something a little off the beaten track.

John Quinn

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