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Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor, Op.15 (1876-79, rev.1883) [30:26]
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor, Op.45 (1885-86) [33:13]
Éric Le Sage (piano), Daishin Kashimoto (violin), Lise Berthaud
(viola), François Salque (cello)
rec. March 2011, Maison de la Culture, Grenoble
ALPHA 601 [64:09]
Fauré’s two piano quartets are characterized by
haunting melodies, inventive voice handling, clever musical
development, witty surprises and the feeling of balance. These
conspire to achieve the sort of beauty of effect that can make
a musical work one’s favourite. They’re certainly
mine. For me it was love at first hearing. This was aided by
my first encounter beiong courtesy of the Domus ensemble on
That disc remains my reference; I haven’t encountered
a better one yet.
The two works are very similar in structure. Both host an archetypal
Romantic Allegro, a “French” scherzo (which
was a Fauré speciality), a lyrical slow movement and
a vigorous finale. Despite their similarity, they look good
together, and are often paired on disc. The present recording
is done by a group of young musicians that do not form a “named”
quartet. Yet their performance has all the balance and smoothness
of a permanent ensemble.
The presentation of the first movement of the First Quartethas weight, and sounds more purposeful than natural.
The voice of the piano is deep yet somewhat muted; the more
open and transparent, albeit more shallow, piano sound of the
Domus creates a more sincere and fresh feeling. This pushes
the piano back toward a more accompanying role and the music
becomes more string-dominated. The quicksilver second movement
leans more towards rustic than elfin. The music has good momentum
and flies forward, light and elegant, with touches of believable
yearning. The slow movement is lugubrious, yet with rays of
light and hope, sweet memories and Romantic longing. The performers
do not plunge too deep into despair; their reading is songlike
and expressive with a slight excess of pressure. The haunting
coda is done beautifully. The finale is a distressed gallop,
a whirlwind where grand Schumann-style melodies swirl and spin,
a wild yet graceful waltz. The discourse isn’t always
crystal clear in this recording; there is certain murkiness
in places. On the other hand, the drive is good, and the feeling
is definitely ecstatic.
The Second Quartet opens with one of those rainfall motifs
that frequent Fauré’s first movements. There is
lyrical tenderness, Brahmsian heartache and Debussian pastel
sonorities. The performers approach it rather physically and
remove the veil of mystery, making it closer to Ravel than Debussy.
They put the first theme “in your face”, with pressure
and angst, yet their second subject is warm and soothing. The
shaded, viscous feeling of the middle section is well projected,
and the beautiful coda has elegance and grandeur. The scherzo
is urgent and well articulated, brisk and sharp, with good weight,
though lacking in nuance. The slow movement moves from a tender
lullaby to an ecstatic love-song and back. The performance is
clear-cut, very eloquent and singful, balanced and warm. It
radiates unhurried, confident nobility. The finale is another
unhinged ride - a black, wild Mephisto-waltz. It closes the
parentheses with the first movement - once more we feel the
wind and the rays of the sun, see the rainbow and hear the splashing
rain. The performers do not assume a breakneck speed - 8:25
comparing to 7:53 of Domus. Even so the momentum is well judged.
This is a pressurized and tempestuous approach. Again, the sound
of the piano is a tad remote. I prefer the drier and more glittering
piano sound of the Domus which creates a more brilliant effect
and better captures that sense of fresh spring water.
All in all, these are faithful performances without eccentricity.
There’s good balance within the group and the music-making
is expressive and engaging. The approach is unified, and the
overall architecture clear. I find the presentation somewhat
down-to-earth, lacking some of the ethereal moments that make
this music so special. The recording is spacious and detailed.
The artful booklet tells us about the history of creation of
the works plus a long analysis of Paul Verlaine’s poem
The Art of Poetry. Regrettably there’s nothing
about the performers.
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