Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 [30:19]
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120 [19:04]
Pavane, Op. 50 (transcr. for piano trio by Henri Büsser) [5:10]
Pièce (for violin and piano) (originally Vocalise-Etude in E minor) [2:54]
Sicilienne, Op. 78 (version for solo piano) [3:25]
Kungsbacka Piano Trio; Philip Dukes (viola)
rec. 12-14 May 2012, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK
NAXOS 8.573042 [61:16]
The Kungsbacka Trio is named after the town in which it first performed. It was founded in 1997 by Swedish violinist Malin Bronman, Swedish cellist Jesper Svedberg, and British pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips. Awarded first prize at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 1999 and honoured with the Royal Swedish Academy of Music’s Interpret Prize, it has performed at several international festivals and has gained a reputation as one of Europe’s outstanding chamber ensembles. Over the last five years, the Trio has released a series of highly acclaimed recordings of trios by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Chopin for the Naxos label. On this, their latest album for Naxos, they present us with a selection of chamber works by Gabriel Fauré in what I hope will be the first in a complete series.
I have been a big fan of the chamber music of Fauré for many years. It dates back to when I checked out the recordings of Jean-Philippe Collard, Augustin Dumay, Frédéric Lodéon, and Michel Debost (EMI, 1990) and the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips, 1990) from my local library back when I was in high school. His chamber works are some of the most expressive, colourful and harmonically rich compositions in the chamber music repertoire.
The Kungsbacka have built their programme around the Piano Quartet No. 1 and the Piano Trio with three shorter pieces arranged for piano trio (Pavane), violin and piano (Pièce), and solo piano (Sicilienne).The album opens with the Piano Quartet No. 1, written between 1876 and 1879 during a period of emotional turmoil in Fauré’s life. The work comprises four movements: a Brahmsian Allegro molto moderato in sonata form, a playful and brilliant Scherzo, a solemn and tragic Adagio and an exciting Allegro molto finale. In the dramatic opening measures of the first movement, the strings (including guest violist Philip Dukes) state the theme in unison with supporting chords from the piano. I was immediately impressed by just how well these musicians play together as a single organic entity. Their ensemble and coordination throughout the entire work are impeccable with total unity in phrasing and use of dynamics. Intonation is spot-on, string tone is rich and the balance between piano and strings is just right. The same is true of their interpretation of the Piano Trio in D minor, a work composed in Fauré’s final years. It abounds in soaring melodic lines and interesting harmonies. Here the trio are truly captivating. Particularly noteworthy is the beauty of their playing in the Andantino, one of the most touching slow movements of any chamber work. It has an existential, soul-searching nature that is reminiscent of the late Nocturnes as well as the Andante movement of the String Quartet in E minor. I have in the past turned to the Florestan Trio (Hyperion, 1999) for this work but the Kungsbacka now offers very serious competition.
The final three pieces are shorter works and arrangements of pieces Fauré wrote for other groups of instruments. The Pavane was originally scored for orchestra but is here presented in Henri Büsser’s version for piano trio. The melody is carried mostly by the violin and cello, with the piano providing more of an accompanying role, and the Kungsbacka convince us that this chamber arrangement works. The Pièce, written in 1906 as a Vocalise-étude and rearranged for oboe, flute or violin and piano by Théodore Donay in 1920, is simple but lyrical and sensitively performed here by Bronman and Crawford-Phillips. Crawford-Phillips closes the album with a solo piano arrangement of the popular Sicilienne for cello and piano.
Sound quality is crystal clear and well balanced throughout. The musicians are evenly spaced across the soundstage, with violin positioned on the left, piano dead centre and cello on the right. One can appreciate the fine acoustics of the Wyastone Concert Hall, with a presentation that is just slightly laid-back, giving the listener the sensation of sitting in the first few rows of the venue.
Whether you are looking to discover Fauré’s chamber music for the first time or are looking for new, dynamic and well-engineered performances to add to your collection, this album is definitely worth your consideration. This recording was my first exposure to the Kungsbacka Trio, and I’m certainly looking forward to many more great things from this exceptional ensemble.