Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Romance, Op. 69 (1894) [3:07]
Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109 (1917) [19:25]
Elegy, Op. 24 (1880) [5:58]
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117 (1921) [16:31]
Serenade, Op. 98 (1908) [2:47]
Papillon, Op. 77 (1898) [2:44]
Berceuse, Op. 16 (1880) [3:13]
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 44 (1880) [19:24]
Eric Le Sage (piano), François Salque (cello), Paul Meyer (clarinet)
rec. March 2011, Auditorium MC2, Maison de la Culture de Grenoble. DDD
ALPHA 600 [67:11]
This handsomely produced disc is the first of a five volume series of the complete
chamber music of Gabriel Fauré. The pianist Eric Le Sage and cellist
François Salque play Fauré’s two cello sonatas and five
of his salon pieces. These artists are then joined by the clarinettist Paul
Meyer to perform the Trio, Op. 120, as a clarinet trio rather than the piano
trio format in which it is usually performed. The liner-notes suggest that playing
it in this instrumentation points up Fauré’s kinship with the Germanic
rather than the French musical tradition. I found this an interesting observation,
given that his mood often recalls the more introspective of Brahms’ late
piano works. This generously-filled and very well played disc shows the extent
of Fauré’s achievement as a chamber music composer, and the way
his music wears both romantic and modern masks.
The Romance, Op. 69, was originally written for cello and organ; the piano version
goes a step up-tempo, from Andante to Andante quasi allegretto.
This work is played with great expertise by Salque and Le Sage, opening with
a lovely purr from the cello’s bass strings. Salque gets a chance to show
off his fine legato playing, and he and Le Sage perform affectionately, without
trying to make it sound more than the very superior salon music that it is.
The first Sonata begins with the tempo marking of Allegro deciso, in
an unusually assertive vein for Fauré; I was reminded of the Shostakovich
Cello Sonata. The slow movement features a searching theme for cello over sparse
accompaniment. The midsection winds upwards in chromatic steps in a manner that
is typical of Fauré’s melodies. The finale moves from a tentative-sounding
start to an almost mystical level of exultation. Like most of Fauré’s
later style, there is a sense of continuous flow from ostinato semiquaver figures;
here it seems to anticipate minimalism. Salque and Le Sage shape the phrases
with great care and wide dynamic range; they render the ceaseless shifts in
feeling with the utmost sensitivity.
The Second Cello Sonata is a less outgoing work than its predecessor. It opens
with a theme that has a characteristically narrow compass; this movement - along
with many other tracks - show Fauré’s skill in elaborating small
motifs into larger structures. The second movement is a transcription of an
early Chant funéraire for wind band, and retains the repeated
chordal accompaniment characteristic of a funeral march. The finale begins with
rapid, rather Schumann-esque figures in the piano, while the second subject
is less extraverted. Salque and Le Sage give this work a wonderfully responsive
performance that shows their secure and intuitive partnership.
While writing the Trio, Op. 120, in 1922, Fauré referred to it as a trio
for violin or clarinet, piano and cello. He then appeared to abandon the alternative
clarinet version, completing the work the following year as a piano trio. Le
Sage and Salque feel that the original conception of the work justifies its
being performed as a clarinet trio, and they are joined for this purpose by
Paul Meyer. I felt that Meyer’s first entry was tonally a little too bright;
however, he soon blends successfully with the other parts, and one becomes accustomed
to hearing a reed instrument in the ensemble. The first movement is dominated
by a theme based on the tonic arpeggio; it has an economy that marks it as one
of Fauré’s most masterful. The slow movement opens in a typically
not quite untroubled mood; this develops into an intense episode in which the
clarinet and cello play, in unison, a lamenting theme that winds upwards in
remorseless chromatic steps. The finale is more animated, with a questioning
theme on clarinet and cello drawing an answering fusillade of semiquavers from
the piano. This is contrasted with a chorale-like theme on the clarinet and
cello; the discussion of these episodes concludes with an exultant coda. Meyer
is a sensitive player who combines well with Le Sage and Salque in this version
of the Trio. I personally prefer the original scoring of this Trio; even a player
as good as Meyer has to breathe occasionally, and this breaks the phrases up
more than a bow change on a violin. Nonetheless, this is a very persuasive performance
that shows a familiar masterpiece in a new light.
Between the Second Cello Sonata and the Trio, Salque plays three of Fauré’s
shorter pieces for cello and piano: the Serenade, Op. 98, Papillon, Op. 77,
and the early Berceuse, Op. 16. These little pieces all show Fauré’s
skill at creating atmosphere and spinning out melodies, and the performances
are admirable in every respect. Salque does not have a huge sound, but produces
it easily, with an attractively rich tone, particularly on his lower strings.
Credit should also go to Le Sage for his skills as an accompanist, adroitly
managing Fauré’s continuous semiquaver writing so that it never
sounds monotonous. The recording is quite close, but free from grunts or other
extraneous noises; the sound picture has natural warmth, and is well balanced.
Paul Tortelier and Eric Heidsieck recorded the Fauré sonatas in the 1960s;
these have become classic accounts. The rapport between the two has the confidence
of a long partnership, and Tortelier sounds as if he has this music in his blood.
After hearing the Salque performances I noticed a more nasal and resinous character
to Tortelier’s sound, and felt that Salque produced his upper register
a little more easily. The timings are similar, except for the finale of the
first sonata, which Tortelier got through in 5:24 as against 7:40 for Salque;
this is probably due to the latter observing a repeat which Tortelier did not.
Jean-Philippe Collard, Augustin Dumay and Frédéric Lodéon
recorded the Trio Op. 120 in 1976 or 1977 in its familiar piano trio version.
Their approach is more romantic, even abandoned, than on the Alpha disc; the
long crescendo in the slow movement is taken very gradually. The finale in particular
draws some patches of unattractive tone from Dumay, and he and Lodeon’s
bow changes can be rather heavy. This performance has a great deal of conviction,
but with twenty-five recordings currently available from Arkiv, there are probably
smoother sounding accounts to be had.
If the rest of this series of Fauré’s chamber music is of this
standard, it will be a compulsory acquisition for all lovers of this composer.