Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet in C minor, Op.15 (1876-83) [29:48]
Johannes BRAHMS (1933-1897)
Piano Quartet in G minor, Op.25 (1859-61) [38:20]
The Primrose Piano Quartet (Susanne Stanzeleit (violin), Robin Ireland (viola), Andrew Fuller (cello), John Thwaites (piano))
rec. 21-23 September 2010, St. John the Evangelist Church, West Meon
MERIDIAN CDE 84599 [68:00]
Margarita Hanson from Derbyshire studied music in Germany in the 1890s. She knew Brahms and, before returning to England, asked the composer to help her select a piano. It is this instrument, a Blüthner boudoir grand, which we hear in this recording. It might seem fitting to play the composer’s music on the instrument he chose himself, but I have reservations about this decision. This instrument is old, Brahms chose it for different purposes, and he probably chose from what was available, which does not automatically mean the absolute best quality. The disc pairs two striking piano quartets - arguably the two most striking in the Romantic repertoire, - but the “wooden” piano sound and dull acoustics all but kill the enjoyment.  

’s First Piano Quartet has the characteristic Brahmsian push and edge, yet his German stubbornness is softened here with sunny French charm. The first movement is agitated and resolute, with a lyrical, softly opalescent second subject. The piano is like water, penetrating all layers, connecting them, oiling and aiding them to move. The development of the music is masterful and enthralling. The delightful Scherzo is warm and cool by turns, swiftly flying forward. Its Trio is more lyrical and songlike, yet with the same unceasing momentum, like glittering fountain water. The lugubrious slow movement feels tired and embittered; but then comes an episode of new hope, poetic and sincere. There is beautiful sadness in these quiet, resigned pages, which bears resemblance to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. The finale starts as a distressed, agitated running through wind and rain. The episodes are shifting: positive and songlike, exalted and yearning, quiet and cautious, until a magnificent, passionate melody crystallizes, and all falls back into the stormy sea. The ending is dense and grandiose; it mixes everything that was before and concludes the work with a grand exclamation. 

composed the opening movement of his First Piano Quartet on a symphonic scale. It is wide-branching, massive and melodically rich; the colors are dark and cold. It is followed by a fast and nervous Scherzo, whose doleful tremors are set off by the suddenly positive Trio, which is happy and quicksilver, and sounds rather “French”. The slow movement sings of love and peaceful happiness. Brahms lulls us into a beautiful dream - and then, without warning, slams us from all the sides with the first notes of the finale. This incredibly colorful, fascinating, crazy music is a veritable Gypsy whirlwind. The listener is caught unprepared by the sharp twists, the episodes of bravura, mocking seriousness and genuine laughter, then grandiose and maudlin. Brahms was rarely unbuttoned, but nowhere as much as here.
The performers choose excellent tempi and play with fire and passion. Still, the sound is stumbling and uneven, as if scant of breath. The recording is not clear, reducing the music’s effect; sometimes I had to strain my ears to hear the inner voices. In Fauré’s Scherzo we get energetic running instead of fresh flight, and the pizzicato is not very audible. The high point in the Fauré is the slow movement, where the brilliance is less vital. The performance of this movement is persuasive and deeply felt; the desolate, viscous presentation enhances the character of the music.
The first movement of the Brahms is very civilized. At some points the music attains a strange marching quality - mostly due to the piano playing. What in other performances can seem to fly forward, here is heard proudly striding. There’s also constraint in the second movement’s Trio as if running with legs tied. The strings are expressive in the slow movement, but the piano is too marcato: it tramples. However, all works well for the marching middle episode, which comes out quite effectively. After this the pianist manages to make the instrument sing, so the last half of the slow movement is played with powerful intensity. The performance is surprisingly fitting for the finale. The heavy, wooden footfall of the piano brings the music closer to its folk roots, with rough stomping and dashing whistling. The music loses all good manners and shows itself as impudently rakish. The piano accompaniment is drowning - and it is good! The musicians play with gusto - right over-the-top. I really love what they do here.
While I give full marks to the last track, I can’t say the same for the entire program. Listening to this music should not be so tiring - I used for comparison the refreshing Fauré by Domus on Hyperion. The liner-note provides interesting reading and excellent musical analysis. 

Oleg Ledeniov 

Listening to this music should not be so tiring to the ear.