Concert Review

Chausson Centenary Philippe Graffin (violin), Jeremy Menuhin (piano) and the Chilingirian Quartet. Wigmore Hall, 16 November 1999

A full house last night commemorated that summer's day 100 years ago when the French composer Ernest Chausson set out for a picnic on his bike, fell off and died from his injuries. Pneumatic tyres had yet to be invented.

Chausson's compatriot Philippe Graffin has organised a series of three concerts, of which yesterday's was the second. The programme included the London premiere of a newly discovered chamber version of Chausson's Poeme Op25. Everyone took part. Graffin's silken, easy tone rang clear of the quartet's brittle, tugging texture. His bow is so gentle that it seems only to be wiping the strings. The start of the work demands from the violinist a long two-part folksong solo which Graffin played with perfect balance.

Earlier he had played the Violin Sonata in A by Chausson's teacher Cesar Franck, which suited his shining, forward tone. The allegro turned his bow into a jumping piston, the recitative and fantasia were pure, impassioned soap-box oration, and the kiss-chase finale, violin tailing piano, twisted and turned like a fish in the sun.

The Chilingirians played two quartets. Debussy's in G minor inspired an absorbing performance. Their synchronicity was a joy. The first movement was a lake of glassy harmony, the second, assez vif, a sparkling cascade of pizzicato pluckings. The players made absolute logic of Debussy's language which grasped the 20th century before it arrived.

The concert opened with Chausson's unfinished quartet in C minor Op35 (1899). The first two movements were gentle, confident arguments, full of warm fin-de-siecle melancholy. The third, gaiement, had the air of a country picnic with happy, dejeuner-sur-l'herbe laughter, only once disturbed by the minor key arrival of a wasp. The trick was to guess where Chausson's third ended and where Vincent D'Indy's, who had finished it, began. No fourth followed. None ever got written. How did you say Daddy was going to get here? On his bike?.....

Rick Jones

The last concert in Philippe Graffin's Chausson series is on Sun 21 Nov at 11.30am, at the Wigmore Hall, London W1 (0171 935 2141)

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