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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor, Op.45 (1885-86) [33:00]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Sérénade BEA [15:12]
Jean Françaix (piano); Pasquier Trio
Pasquier Sextet/Jean Françaix
rec. 1951 (Fauré) and 1953 (Françaix), Paris

This is a disc strong on resonance. Marguerite Long recorded both of Fauré’s Piano Quartets during the course of her career, and maybe her long shadow hangs over this release in that respect, not least because the second piano quartet was recorded with the Pasquier Trio, the focus of this release from Forgotten Records. Yet here the Pasquier are teamed not with Long but with pianist and composer Jean Françaix in a 1951 recording of Op.45. Five years later Long and the Pasquier brothers recorded the Op.15.
Long had recorded the G minor piano quartet back in 1940 with the august team of Jacques Thibaud, Maurice Vieux and Pierre Fournier, and this Françaix-Pasquier differs quite significantly from that 78 set. For one thing the recording level is quite torrid - Parisian studios of the time, especially chamber acoustics, were very dry, even harsh. It ascribes to the string playing a rather raw, resinous quality. This is augmented by the playing itself which is taut, and generally quickly dispatched. As one would expect of this leading string trio there’s plenty of ensemble strength but the rubati and syntax are sometimes brusque, and shrill. Françaix’s piano tone can be brittle. But even an unsympathetic recorded sound can’t diminish admiration for the rhythmic vitality or for a slow movement that is more expansive, though not necessarily more expressive, than the wartime recording. Françaix, a fine accompanist - his recordings with Maurice Gendron are notable examples of his art on record - plays with great tact as he does in the finale, where the performance is at its most dramatic. So, all in all, a historically valuable performance, performed by France’s leading string trio and an excellent executant-composer at the keyboard, that’s rather let down by an unsympathetic recording.
The ‘filler’ is Françaix’s own Sérénade BEA, which is not one of his best known chamber works and not one to be confused with any of the better known Serenades. This is for a sextet, played by the augmented Pasquier group directed by the composer in 1955. It’s suffused in his dapper wit but it also sports a pensive quality that reveals its multi-sidedness. The loquacious chatter of the slow movement and the laughing syntax of the scherzo - and it really does sound like laughing so witty is the characterisation - is capped by a prima donna-ish yawn. This visceral, clever music is brilliantly played, not least when the March rhythms of the finale dissolve into a mysterious epilogue, a quietly tragic close to a genuinely engaging work. The studio acoustic is not as wintry or troublesome as the companion Fauré.
Whatever the context, the Pasquier Trio or Sextet remain superbly equipped ambassadors for the repertoire.
Jonathan Woolf