WORKS: Complete chamber music for strings and piano
PERFORMER: Caussé (viola), Gautier Capuçon (cello), Nicholas Angelich, Michel Dalberto (piano); Quatuor Ebène
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 070 8752
Almost any new recording of Fauré’s chamber music is cause for (refined) celebration. To have a five-disc set
of all the pieces involving strings, or strings and piano, is an utter delight. It comes as little surprise to learn from violinist Renaud Capuçon in the booklet that this set is a labour of love for all concerned; Fauré has that effect on people. This delectable master of understatement, whose rarefied late works reveal their charms but slowly, gets under the skin like no other.
With the exception of the Quatuor Ebène’s rightly feted account of the String Quartet (reviewed November 2008), these are all new recordings. The set is arranged thematically, with the first two discs featuring, respectively, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon; each provides numerous delights, even if some moments, such as the opening of the cello Elegie, will not be to all tastes. The central disc partners the Piano Trio and String Quartet, and the final two discs are devoted to the pairs of Piano Quartets and Piano Quintets.
Given such a logical approach, it seems rather perverse to plonk the distinctly modest Morceau de lecture for two cellos at the end of the set like a superfluous encore to the beautifully nuanced performance of the second Piano Quintet. Here, as elsewhere in the set, Nicholas Angelich shows that his limpid playing is just as suited to Fauré as to Brahms, while Michel Dalberto is equally sympathetic to the Quatuor Ebène in the first Quintet.
There is a similar division of pianistic chores for the Piano Quartets, in which the Capuçon brothers are joined by the warm viola playing of Gérard Caussé. This disc typifies the set as a whole. They are penetrating and utterly idiomatic, and combine to make a deeply rewarding set, even if there may be even better accounts of individual movements or works.
The performances are generally a joy, but the caveat comes with the sound, which is rather resonant, and a little distant at times, so the textures are not always clear. This is a great pity, since it mars an otherwise impressive set. Christopher Dingle