Fauré: Piano Quintets Nos 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Faure
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Quintets Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Cristina Ortiz (piano); Fine Arts Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570938

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When Fauré’s late compositions are described as ‘difficult’, the comment will almost certainly be referring primarily to his Piano Quintet No. 2. Dating from Fauré’s compositional ‘Indian Summer’ of 1919-21, after his retirement from the directorship of the Paris Conservatoire, it followed the final version of No. 1 by more than a decade.

As so often with Fauré’s pairs of works in one genre, it inhabits a world infused with the same élan as its predecessor, yet viewed from an entirely new perspective, like Art Nouveau filtered through Cubism. Because Fauré’s late works are presupposed ‘difficult’, they have often been played to sound that way, their intellectual, contrapuntal writing accentuated at the expense of the composer’s ever-gutsy sensuality.

The Fine Arts Quartet and the marvellous Cristina Ortiz certainly don’t do that. Though the recording by the Ysaÿe Quartet and Pascal Rogé (Decca) has the benchmark edge – a subtle, sophisticated account replete with idiomatic nuance and vigour – the FAQ has a notably ‘golden age’ approach, drawing on the aesthetic of an era not far from Fauré’s own and bringing both quintets fully to life.

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The sweet-toned first violin Ralph Evans produces portamentos worthy of Fauré’s friend Jacques Thibaud; Ortiz’s playing blends in sensitively, dousing the texture with showers of pianistic glitter; and the ensemble’s vibrant emotionalism – though suitably modified for Fauré’s purposes – emphasises the questing exploration within the composer’s elusive language. Jessica Duchen