independent German label Musikproduktion Dabringhaus and
Grimm (MDG) complement their disc of Franck’s Piano Quintet
in F minor and Chausson’s Piano Quartet in A major on MDG
344 1351-2 with a release presenting the String Quartets
of the same two composers in splendid interpretations by
the Spiegel String Quartet.
The Spiegel Quartet was formed in Antwerp in 1996 by
members of the Ysaÿe Quartet. Until then the musicians had
been leaders or principals with some of Belgium’s foremost
orchestras. Today the players under the leadership of Elisa
Kawaguti, devote themselves exclusively to chamber music
and teaching. The Spiegels play an highly impressive collection
of instruments: the first violin. Elisa Kawaguti. an Atelier
Stradivarius (1740); second violin, Stefan Willems, a T.
Boussu, Brussels (1750); violist, Leo De Neve, a D. Teckler
(1693) and cellist, Jan Sciffer, a Marcus Snoeck, Brussels
The Liège-born César Franck was late to develop his
mature style writing all his masterpieces when he was well
into his forties. Although Franck began to compose chamber
music quite late in his career his creative output was immense
once he started, and went on to write impassioned works that
are some of the most famous in all late-19th Century chamber
music. Foremost among them are the wonderful Piano Quintet
in F minor (1879) and the Violin Sonata in A major (1886).
D major String Quartet was one of Franck’s final works and
it seemed to demand of him a great deal of effort. He worked
at it from 1889 to 1890 and before that he had prepared by
studying the string quartets of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms.
At its première in Paris at a concert of the Société Nationale
de Musique, in April 1890, the String Quartet was received
so enthusiastically by the audience that a second performance
was arranged for the following month. The richly structured
work would prove to be one of the few successful premières
in Franck’s career.
Franck constructs the D major score around cyclical
material which recurs modified or transformed throughout
the different movements. The extended first movement Poco
lento-allegro has been described as a Lied, since
it is basically a fully extended song. In the hands of the
Spiegel the opening movement feels like Franck is yearning
for a perpetual childhood. Mendelssohnian in spirit, the scherzo is
diaphanous in nature, and is performed with charm and lightness
of touch. The third movement, the real heart of the score,
is a larghetto which contains some of the most magisterial
pages ever written by Franck. The players confidently convey
the exalted nature and the intense feeling of the movement.
The final movement marked allegro molto is a major
apotheosis to the score in which all the previous themes
are recapitulated. The work ends with a magical final reminder
of the noble song of the larghetto. I love the way
the Spiegels communicate the appropriate blend of virility
and charm with nobility and passion.
Ernest Chausson died on 10 June 1899 when his bicycle
crashed into a wall. Inevitably, given his disposition, various
commentators have wondered whether this was suicide, but
it is hard to believe that such a deeply moral man would
have chosen to kill himself while riding behind one of his
daughters and on the way to meet the rest of his family at
the railway station.
the various projects Chausson left behind were some for a
second opera, some orchestral overtures, a violin sonata,
a second symphony and this String Quartet in C minor. Chausson
had finished the first two movements of the C minor score
and was nearly at the end of the third when the fatal accident
happened. Vincent D'Indy completed the third movement and
in this form the work was given its first performance at
the Société Nationale in January 1900.
The first movement marked Grave - Modéré was
completed in 1898 and given a private performance to great
success. Here Chausson quotes the opening phrase of Debussy’s
String Quartet. The score, though in no way derivative, mirrors
the gravity of Franck's music and contains remarkable Franckian
textures such as the use of sequences and deliberate pauses.
The Spiegel perform the movement with an impressive fluency
and coherence. Four months later, in the spring of 1899,
the serene second movement Très calme was completed.
Here Chausson seems to quote the ‘Tarnhelm’ motif from Wagner’s Das
Rheingold. With consummate understanding the Belgium
players in the slow movement convey a rich vein of tenderness
and humanity. The concluding movement Gaiement, pas trop
vite is the most interesting of all the three movements.
Here the link with Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op.
127 becomes evident as both composers utilise a striking
dotted rhythm and mix the sonata form and the scherzo in
a similar way. Impressively and with extraordinary adroitness
in the closing movement the Spiegels neatly fashion an interpretation
of colourful expression. D'Indy was given the simple task
of completing the final bars and editing the rough manuscript
that Chausson left. Though undoubtedly one of Chausson’s
most beautiful works the C minor score never quite captured
public imagination and is now seldom performed.
sonics from the Dabringhaus
and Grimm engineers are
acceptable but I would have preferred more detail as opposed
to the slightly cloudy sound picture. I wonder if this is
an attempt by the sound engineers to provide an atmosphere
of French Impressionnisme. The helpful
liner notes are well written but not flawless.
don’t currently have an alternative recording of the Franck
Quartet but a quick Google search revealed accounts from:
the Fitzwilliam Quartet on Decca Australian Eloquence 4768463;
the Joachim Quartet on Calliope CAL 9889; the Bartholdy Quartet
on Christophorus CHE00372 and the Kocian Quartet on Praga
PR250141. My choice for a recommended version of the Chausson
Quartet is an easier task. I would not look outside the account
from the Quatuor Ludwig on Naxos 8.553645, c/w Franck Piano
Quintet. Recorded in 1996, at the Alençon Auditorium in France,
the Ludwigs perform the score with spontaneity and a great
I cannot imagine
too many people being disappointed with these splendid interpretations
by the Spiegel of both the Franck and the Chausson quartets.