Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 (1883) [31:58]
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45 (1887) [33:51]
Ballade for piano and orchestra (1881) [14:11]
Marguerite Long (piano), Trio Pasquier (Quartet no. 1)
Jacques Thibaud (violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Pierre Fournier (cello) (Quartet no. 2)
rec. 13 February, 1956 (Quartet no. 1), Maison de la Mutualité, Paris (Quartet no. 1); 10 May, 1940, Studio Albert, Paris (Quartet no. 2); Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (Ballade). ADD

The French pianist Marguerite Long devoted much of her career to promoting the music of Gabriel Fauré. This disc features her playing two masterpieces of Fauré’s chamber music and the Ballade for piano and orchestra. The Piano Quartet recordings date from the 1940s and 1950s, and have been previously released on CD. Each has been extensively re-mastered for the present disc, with the Second Quartet, being the earliest performance, receiving the most intensive treatment.

With the exception of the Requiem, op. 48, and the Pavane, op. 50, the music of Gabriel Fauré has never enjoyed wide popularity in English-speaking musical circles. As head of the Paris Conservatoire between 1905 and 1920, he taught Debussy and Ravel, among others. The musicologist Henri Prunières said of his teaching, “What Fauré developed among his pupils was taste, harmonic sensibility, the love of pure lines, of unexpected and colorful modulations”. He could have been talking about Fauré’s own music. As for Beethoven, Fauré’s increasing deafness brought about a change in his compositional style. The melodic quality of the earlier work gives way to a more opaque, inward-looking feeling. The later works tend towards long paragraphs with a sense of continuous flow, ostinato rhythms, and close, often modal-sounding harmonies. This stylistic progression is represented by the two major works on this disc, the Piano Quartets nos. 1 and 2.

Although the First Quartet has a completion date only four years earlier than the Second, Fauré actually finished it in 1879; he later rewrote the finale entirely in 1883. It is a melodic work with echoes of Chopin and Schumann. The present performance was given in 1956 by Marguerite Long and the Trio Pasquier, who comprised Jean Pasquier (violin), Pierre Pasquier (viola) and Etienne Pasquier (cello).

The opening is quite deliberate, with full bowing from the Pasquiers. The interplay between them and Long is quite organic. It is obvious from early on that Long and the Pasquiers see the work in extended paragraphs, which build to powerful climaxes. The Pasquiers employ portamenti with restraint, and their unison passages are beautifully together. Their interplay with Long is particularly fluid in the Scherzo, where they nudge and jostle each other like dolphins playing about the bow of a ship. The slow movement shows great dynamic shaping and concentration over the length of Fauré’s extended melodic lines. The turbulent beginning of the finale is played with fervour; the ensemble is again both very tight and natural-sounding. This is playing of great generosity and infectious rhythmic drive. Apart from some slight congestion at the tuttis and an occasionally brittle piano sound, the recording is very acceptable.

My comparison for this work is the recording made in 1968 by Samson François and members of the Bernède Quartet. This is contained in the Fauré Music de chambre set on EMI Classics (50999 501351 2 7), which contains his complete chamber music on 5 CDs. The performances are all French, and include gems such as the Violin Sonatas with Christian Ferras and Pierre Barbizet, the String Quartet with the Bernède Quartet, and much more. The timings in Long’s performance are a little slower than the François recording, most of all in the Adagio (7:39 compared to 6:27). Other than this, the basic parameters of the François/Bernède performance are similar to those of the Long/ Pasquier recording. Given that François was one of Long’s pupils, this is not surprising. The sound is obviously an improvement over the 1956 recording.

In the performance of the Second Piano Quartet next on the disc Marguerite Long is joined by Jacques Thibaud (violin), Maurice Vieux (viola) and Pierre Fournier (cello). This distinguished ensemble came together to record this work on 10 May 1940, the very day on which the German invasion of Holland was announced. Rather than overshadowing the occasion, this ominous event seems only to have spurred the musicians to supreme heights, and the entire Quartet was recorded that day. Long felt that Thibaud had never played so well. This is certainly a fabulous performance; the pulse never falters, and the ebb and flow of the music has a great sense of inevitability. Fauré’s long melodic lines intertwine in the string writing like the decoration in an Art Nouveau border. The rapt dialogue between the piano and the viola in the third movement is particularly beautiful. There is an odd echo of Vaughan Williams in this movement, where the viola solo sounds as if it is about to launch into the Tallis Fantasia. The finale opens with one of Fauré’s driving ostinato rhythms; this movement in particular builds tremendous rhythmic force as it rolls like a bursting wave toward the final cadence. The recording sounds fierce at the beginning, with a lot of crackle, but this settles down to something more comfortable. With a performance like this, however, one is not concerned about the recording.

My comparison recording of this work also comes from the EMI set, this time dating from 1976, and features Jean-Philippe Collard on piano with the Parrenin Quartet. Speeds are pretty consistent with the earlier performance. This is a fine performance as well, with a thin but much more comfortable sound. One would not, however, want to be without Long, Thibaud, Vieux and Fournier; their performance of this mature masterpiece of Fauré’s is unforgettable.

The Ballade is a pleasant, meandering work for piano and orchestra, dating from 1881. It begins in a gentle, Satie-like vein, which is succeeded by more animated episodes. The work reverts at the end to the contemplative mood in which it began. Long recorded this work five times, and clearly has it in her blood: she plays the fluttering, rather Chopinesque decoration with delicacy. The oboe and clarinet are rather acid-toned, but otherwise the recording, which dates from 1956, sounds quite acceptable. My comparison for this work is from Virgin, which is a performance recorded in 1988 by the Northern Sinfonia and Jean-Bernard Pommier. Pommier directs from the keyboard as well as playing the solo part; he gets through the work in 13:41 as against Long’s 14:11. I feel the orchestra in the Virgin recording is a bit tentative, probably reflecting the lack of a conductor.

When Marguerite Long played this recording of the Piano Quartet no. 2 to Emil Gilels, he paused to gather his thoughts, then said, “That, Madame, is one of life’s great moments”. Andrew Rose’s re-mastering of these immortal recordings allows that moment to be experienced again.

Guy Aron

These classic performances of Fauré’s Piano Quartets are given a new lease of life, and should be acquired by anyone who enjoys Fauré or chamber music.