Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Faure
LABELS: ASV Quicksilva
ALBUM TITLE: Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 2
WORKS: Piano Quartet No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Schubert Ensemble of London
CATALOGUE NO: CD QS 6237

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Although the piano quartet is hardly the most popular genre for composers, with barely ten works of any worth, the chamber repertoire would be markedly poorer without Fauré’s two masterpieces. It was while writing the relatively restrained First Piano Quartet that Marianne, daughter of the singer Pauline Viardot, eventually became Fauré’s fiancée only to end the engagement after just four months.

Typically, Fauré’s music betrays little of this turmoil. The First Quartet is certainly not a superficial or dry work, especially in this account from the Schubert Ensemble of London, but tensions are resolved through dialogue rather than conflict. Every nuance must be replete with meaning, and yet it can easily sound charmless if any player overstates their case. The classic recording by Domus is without peer in this respect, with warm sound supporting an exquisitely vivacious reading in which the overall direction is never lost in the finely judged minutiae.

The Second Quartet is a very different kettle of fish. It scarcely sounds like Fauré at all, with breathless outer movements, and the distinctly Russian overtones of its sparky scherzo. Franck’s influence is tangible, with faint echoes of his Violin Sonata in the tense last movement. The only respite comes in the transcendent Adagio, described by Copland as ‘intensity on a background of calm’. The vigorous account on this favourably priced new disc has much to commend it, but the extraordinary passion and sheer beauty of the Domus performance make the efforts of any challenger seem gawky in comparison.

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Christopher Dingle