Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 15; Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 45

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COMPOSERS: Faure
LABELS: Sony Artist Laureate
ALBUM TITLE: Fauré Piano Quartets
WORKS: Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 15; Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 45
PERFORMER: Emanuel Ax (piano), Isaac Stern (violin), Jaime Laredo (viola), Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 48066 DDD

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These artists won an award in 1991 for their performances of Brahms’s three piano quartets, and their account of these two by Fauré, which has the same recording engineer in Kevin Boutote, is also excellent. Stern and his colleagues manage to sound both polished and splendidly spontaneous, and the passion in the first movement of the C minor Quartet comes across strongly, reminding us that Fauré was not just a master of fastidious musical utterance, although refinement is certainly one aspect of his personality. After the premiere in 1880, in which Fauré himself played the piano, the work was called ‘noisy and discordant’, and two firms refused it before he found a publisher. Today that’s hard to believe, but the music still shows the emotional boldness that upset polite musical circles at the time – though not in the scherzo second movement which Florent Schmitt called ‘a masterpiece of taste and vivacity’ and which is here played with soufflé-like lightness. Beginning the Adagio that follows, the strings give us a fine eloquence against quiet piano chords, and the quality of performance is sustained thereafter in this movement and in the finale – in which I must praise Yo-Yo Ma’s wonderfully rich tone. The Second Quartet also goes very well, with the three artists bringing delicacy and passion to this subtle score with its edgy Scherzo that has been called a ‘demons’ dance’. This is an outstanding issue as regards playing; the recording is maybe a touch too reverberant, but otherwise excellent.

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Christopher Headington