WORKS: Piano Quintet in F sharp minor
PERFORMER: Stephen Coombs (piano); Chilingirian Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67258
The draw may be Reynaldo Hahn, but the must-hear is Vierne’s Quintet: not quite a forgotten masterpiece, more an unknown one. From a Franck-like introduction, it takes off into a sustained exploration of uneasy power and intense peaks that may shock listeners who know only his organ music. Its distinctive material, heart-on-sleeve melodies and edgy, agitated figures, is made all of a piece by its unrelenting treatment and restless harmonic style. Dramatic side-steps at the top of climaxes, harrowing withdrawals into moods of darkness, and a finale of highly original character like a dance of death: it adds up to an experience of unexpected compulsion.
Hahn’s Quintet is a fluent and friendly piece, a throwback to the heyday of Saint-Saëns and early
Fauré half a century on, which zips off at a lightweight agitato and turns meltingly melodic at every opportunity. The finale’s theme has a neat mock-Baroque cadence – very Twenties, and the only thing about the work that is – but is swept aside by an unexpected accumulation of weight, rather like the corresponding movement in Franck’s Violin Sonata.
The players, ferociously concentrated and demonstrative in Vierne, find just the right delicate touch here. In short, a Hyperion classic, finely recorded by the veteran team of Compton and Faulkner.