would have thought that Ansermet’s pioneering recording of Magnard’s
Third Symphony many years ago would eventually have resulted
in a near-complete recording of this composer’s substantial,
if small in number, output. There are now three recorded sets
of his symphonies (EMI, Hyperion and BIS), a recording of his
shorter orchestral works (Timpani), a splendid recording of
Guercoeur as well several discs of his chamber
music. The only conspicuous gap in Magnard’s present discography
is the absence of a recording of his third opera Bérénice.
His first opera Yolande will probably remain unperformed
and unrecorded since the orchestral parts are now lost, whereas
the existing vocal score offers no hints at the orchestration.
This must be the third recording of his masterly String
Quartet in E minor Op.16, if my memory serves me right.
It would be idle to go into any detail about this towering masterpiece,
suffice it to say that it is one of Magnard’s most imposing,
complex and uncompromising major works. As Harry Halbreich rightly
remarks in his indispensable book Albéric Magnard (written
with Simon-Pierre Perret, published by Fayard 2001), in which
he compares Magnard’s String Quartet with Schönberg’s near-contemporary
First String Quartet, Magnard and Schönberg resume string quartet
composition from where Beethoven left off with his String Quartet
Op.131. Magnard’s quartet may still be much indebted to Franck
through the use of cyclic motives, the harmonic tension and
the masterly contrapuntal writing it generously displays; but
Magnard’s approach is totally individual and highly personal.
All movements, but the Serenade placed second and functioning
as a Scherzo, are based on intricately worked-out sonata forms.
The final movement Danses – Vif, populaire, is a typical
Magnard finale, in that it vigorously, though rigorously suggests
rustic dances and displays rugged energy that partly dispels
the harmonic tension of the preceding movements. This, however,
is no folk-like romp, for every minute of it is strictly kept
under control. The String Quartet is a grand masterpiece that
will never be popular because of its complexity, but it should
nevertheless make its mark by sheer expressive strength, powerfully
propulsive energy and generous if rugged lyricism.
have long been prejudiced against Fauré’s music and have neglected
it for many years. I have now come to regard it differently;
is this the privilege of getting older, I do not know? I was
delighted to have this opportunity to renew acquaintance with
his late String Quartet Op.121. It is his last
major work completed during the twilight of his life, when deafness
had isolated him. Significantly, there is nothing morbid about
this autumnal masterpiece. Intimations of mortality, maybe,
but beaming with some inner joyfulness and full of tranquil
recollection. Musical ideas are as fresh as ever, unfolding
leisurely, without any sentimentality but with a moving expressiveness
as of wisdom gained over the years. But for all its warm lyricism,
the music is skilfully worked-out across the three movements,
with a remarkable lightness of touch and with as sure a hand
have already had the opportunity to enthuse about the Ysa˙e’s
immaculate playing and dedicated musicality, whether they play
Boucourechliev, Magnard or Fauré. These qualities also serve
these substantial works well. I enjoyed this splendid release
enormously. Not to be missed.