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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Intégrale de la musique de chamber avec piano
Éric Le Sage (piano); Daishin Kashimoto (violin); François Salque (cello); Lise Berthaud (viola); Quatuor Ébène (Pierre Colombet (violin I); Gabriel Le Magadure (violin II); Mathieu Herzog (viola); Raphaël Merlin (cello)); Alexandre Tharaud (piano); Paul Meyer (clarinet); Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
rec. 2010-2012, Maison de la Culture de Grenoble (France), and Salle Philharmonique de Liege (Belgium)
ALPHA 228 [5 CDs: 342:56]

A few months ago for our weekly feature ‘MusicWeb International Recommends’, reviewers were asked to nominate recordings of Fauré’s Piano Quartets. My choice was the recording we have here which, for me, seemed to tick all the right boxes. I never investigated the other volumes in the series, so I’m pleased that Alpha have now corralled all five volumes into one reasonably priced box. The original issues were released between 2010 and 2012, and all feature the French pianist Éric Le Sage as a central presence. He’s made something of a speciality of the music of Gabriel Fauré, and the list of musicians who collaborate with him, in this remarkable project, is impressive on all counts.

CD 1 of the set was the first in the series to be issued (review). The two Cello Sonatas are late works: op. 109 in D minor dates from 1917, and op. 117 in G minor from 1921. Both have a sombre complexion, and the placing of the Elégie op.24 between them ensures no break in the melancholic thread. Each is notable for its compactness. François Salque has a beautiful rich, glowing tone, ideal for these autumnal canvases. The performances have a striking directness, and are every bit as good as those by Paul Tortelier and Eric Heidsieck (EMI - review).

Returning to the Piano Quartets, I was reminded just how fine these performances are, and why I recommended them (see also review). If any of the composer’s music showcases his melodic gifts, these two chamber works do just that. There’s a seductive charm in Fauré’s generous lyricism and lush harmonic language. These players succumb to the spell. Outer movements have an emotional urgency, and the slow movements are approached with extreme sensitivity and tenderness. What sets the seal on these convincing interpretations is the outstanding balance achieved between all four instrumentalists, and the warmth and intimacy their playing conveys.

In the Piano Quintets Le Sage is joined by the Quatuor Ébène (see also review). I never feel that these two works reveal their secrets as readily as the Piano Quartets. Perseverance, however, is justly rewarded, and their mysteries are particularly captivating and draw the listener in. The qualities I found in the Piano Quartets inform these readings also. The instinctive phrasing, passionate commitment and unshowy virtuosity are a constant wonder and make these performances very special. I’m particularly taken by the diaphanous and pellucid sound they achieve in the Adagio of op. 89, creating a sense of mystery. The corresponding slow movement of op. 115 has a magical quality, yet weighed down by sorrow.

On 26 September 1922 Fauré wrote to his wife "I've started a trio for clarinet (or violin), cello, and piano". It was completed in February of the following year, and Durand published it as a Trio for piano, violin, and cello. The violin part ended up with double-stop passages, so the possibility of using a clarinet wasn’t on the cards. The work couples both lyricism and adventurous harmonies. In keeping with the composer’s original intentions, this survey includes two versions, one with the clarinet part adapted from that of the violin. The use of the clarinet with its very different timbres shows this delightful work in a distinctly new light. I personally prefer it as a clarinet trio because of the diverse colouristic range this instrument brings to it.

For the four-hand piano works, Alexandre Tharaud joins Éric Le Sage. The Dolly Suite is suffused with charm and elegance, and the Souvenirs de Bayreuth is rhythmically buoyant and displays both stamina and rumbustiousness. These alert renditions show an evident rapport between the two players. When it comes to the pieces for flute and piano, there’s plenty of personality in the playing of Emmanuel Pahud. His renditions of the Fantaisie op.79, Morceau de concours and Sicilienne de Pelléas et Mélisande op.78 are raptly intense, and his attractive sound is particularly engaging.

Éric Le Sage partners Daishin Kashimoto, first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, in Fauré’s two Violin Sonatas. Composed forty years apart, the op. 13 is full of youthful exuberance, although the composer was thirty-five when he composed it. The op.108 is a harder nut to crack, and hasn’t had the popular take-up of its predecessor. It was Jascha Heifetz who helped put the earlier sonata on the map, and he set down two commercial recordings of it, both suave and intensely nuanced. Kashimoto has a rich warm and rounded tone, with immaculate intonation. This, together with his polish, refinement and attention to detail, will guarantee listeners are not disappointed. Le Sage is a sensitive partner, and the way they breathe and shape the long lines, makes this an astute pairing. The four short pieces provide pleasing fillers.

Recorded in two locations - Maison de la Culture de Grenoble (France) and Salle Philharmonique de Liège (Belgium) - the sound quality is consistently fine throughout. Instrumental balance is perfect in every way. The CDs come with an extensive, well-written ninety-seven page booklet in French, English and German. Background to the works is discussed in detail. This modestly priced set has everything going for it, and can be enthusiastically endorsed.

Stephen Greenbank

Full Contents listing

CD 1 [74:02]
Romance [3:07]
Première Sonate op.109 [19:26]
Elégie op.24 [5:58]
Deuxième Sonate op.117 [16:33]
Sérénade op.98 [2:47]
Papillon op.77 [2:44]
Berceuse op.16 [3:13]
Trio op.120 [19:24]
Éric Le Sage (piano)
François Salque (cello)
Paul Meyer (clarinet)

CD 2 [64:09]
Quatuor n°1 en ut mineur op.15 [29:26]
Quatuor n°2 en sol mineur op.45 [32:13]
Éric Le Sage (piano)
Daishin Kashimoto (violin)
Lise Berthaud (viola)
François Salque (cello)

CD 3 [66:15]
Premier Quintette op.89 [31:00]
Deuxième Quintette op.115 [34:07]
Éric Le Sage (piano)
Quatuor Ébène

CD 4 [70:32]
Dolly op.56 [13:52]
Masques et bergamasques op.112 [12:55]
Souvenirs de Bayreuth [4:26]
Fantaisie op.79 [5:06]
Morceau de concours [2:38]
Sicilienne de Pelléas et Mélisande op.78 [3:36]
Trio op.120 [20:48]
Après un Rêve [2:15]
Sicilienne, op.78 [3:26]
Éric Le Sage (piano)
Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
François Salque (cello)
Members of Quatuor Ébène

CD 5 [67:58]
Sonate n°1 op.13 [27:28]
Sonate n°2 op.108 [24:06]
Berceuse op.16 [3:36]
Romance op.28 6:05]
Andante op.75 [5:24]
Éric Le Sage (piano)
Daishin Kashimoto (violin)



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