WORKS: Piano Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Nocturne No. 4, Op. 36
PERFORMER: Kathryn Stott (piano); Hermitage String Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10582
It seems scarcely credible given the riches in his output, but Fauré was not initially inclined towards chamber music. As he recalled towards the end of his life, before the formation of the Société Nationale de Musique, he ‘would not have dreamt of composing a sonata or quartet’. Works such as the two Piano Quartets are such natural, intimate and essential expressions of Fauré’s aesthetic sensibility that it is no exaggeration to say that the Société was the catalyst to him discovering himself as a composer.
Written in the late 1870s, the time of his doomed engagement to Marianne Viardot, the C minor Piano Quartet is the better known of the two. If there is any hint of the pain this caused, it is in the slow movement. However, this is no impassioned outburst in the manner of Berlioz, but a noble and profoundly beautiful melancholy.
This understated De Profundis brings out the best in both of these ensembles, but the outer movements delineate the differing approaches more clearly. The Trio Wanderer, bolstered by Antoine Tamestit on viola, is soft-grained, with wonderfully fluid string phrasing and rounded tone from the entire ensemble. The Chandos disc is spikier, crackling with energy thanks to Kathryn Stott’s superlative pianism. Her outstanding pedigree in Fauré’s music is to the fore. She is joined by the Heritage Trio, who have rich string textures, but are not quite as rhythmically taut.
The G minor Piano Quartet (Op. 45, not Op. 55 as twice stated on the Harmonia Mundi disc) is an equally fine work, with the scurrying, agitated rhythms of the Scherzo confounding those who expect understated geniality from Fauré. Stott and the Heritage Trio imbue the hushed sections with a sense of eerie menace, refusing to smooth the edges, which is certainly not to say they are rough and ready elsewhere, as is clear from their poignant delicacy at the opening of the slow movement.
While the Trio Wanderer give fine performances, the recording occasionally loses focus, and there is a periodic (and distracting) low thudding. The combination of vitality and lyricism from Stott and the Heritage Trio ultimately makes their versions of these chamber masterpieces more compelling, while the exquisite account by Stott of the fourth Nocturne is the icing on the cake. Christopher Dingle