Fauré • Franck
Franck: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 14; Fauré: Piano Quintet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 89
Mami Shikimori (piano); Wihan Quartet
Nimbus NI6397 68:20 mins
In 1905, as Fauré’s First Piano Quintet was nearing completion, he wondered whether three movements would be enough, ‘as in the beautiful Quintet by Franck,’ finally deciding that they were. Instrumentation aside, this is almost the only similarity between the two works.
Franck’s piece, beginning dramatico, lives through what Debussy rather unkindly called its ‘perpetual paroxysms’, and one of the performers’ tasks is to grade these excitements so that we get some feeling of shape in a whole movement. Here this task is fulfilled admirably, helped by discreet rubato here and there, notably in allowing just a touch of extra space leading into the climaxes themselves. The strings range widely between gentle melancholy and furious declamation, while the pianist manages to create impressive volume without banging. The ensemble is alive, too, to the frequent ‘subito’ markings which at times give an almost surreal air to the discourse.
Fauré’s Quintet is less about drama than efflorescence, and in this Mami Shikimori’s attention to the bass is vital. When pianists played his music to Fauré, he would regularly preface their attempts with ‘A nous, les basses!’ (‘Let’s hear those bass lines!’): often it’s the tension between treble and bass that leads the music onwards, with the middle of the texture helping to rationalise things. Another important factor is the echoing of material between the instruments, and here this ensemble is faultless, making intelligible what in less observant performances can be merely a meaningless jumble.
Finally, they excel in the curious Finale, almost all in four-bar phrases and with a nod to folk music. Their elegant phrasing turns the threatened boredom into sheer delight.