> FAURE Piano Quintet RAVEL Piano Trio [JQ] : Classical Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Impression. French Chamber Music Masterpieces
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924): Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor*
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937): Piano Trio
Juno’s Band (Jacqueline Shave (violin); Paul Watkins (cello); Ian Brown (piano); Roger Chase (viola)*)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk 20-21 June 2000
Metronome MET CD 1048 [57’ 22"]
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The title of this CD reflects the impetus behind the recording. It was made to coincide with the exhibition at the National Gallery in London entitled ‘Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890’ which was held between November 2000 and January 2001. The exhibition brought together a significant number of impressionist masterpieces from collections all over the world.

It is a moot point whether the two composers represented here should be tagged as ‘Impressionists’, Fauré especially. That said, it was an appropriate gesture to further celebrate French culture by programming two masterpieces from that country’s chamber music repertoire. Though the two works are very different in style and character they are both fastidious compositions and there is a meaningful link in that Ravel was at one time among Fauré’s pupils.

The Fauré quartet is a relatively early work, composed in 1879 though the finale was substantially revised four years later. It is a strong and characterful piece with an assertive, forward-moving first movement, a mercurial scherzo, a grave and elegiac slow movement and an energetic, propulsive finale. The four distinguished British musicians who constitute Juno’s Band are keenly responsive to its different moods and give a convincing and atmospheric performance. I was particularly impressed with their sensitive rendition of the serenely beautiful slow movement which is an excellent example of Fauré’s subtly expressive art.

The players also respond well to the more allusive sound world of Ravel. His trio, which dates from 1914, has many translucent pastel passages but it is a strong piece also ("broad and powerful" the anonymous note writer calls it.) It seems to me that the players have the right range of tone at their disposal to do justice to the piece. As with the Fauré, I especially warmed to their eloquent account of the slow movement, in this case a passacaglia, which they build from a quiet, sombre beginning into an impressive musical edifice.

Chamber music involving piano and strings presents potentially huge problems of balance for it is all too easy for the piano to dominate. Fauré’s piano writing, in particular, can be heavy in the wrong hands for he conceived it for the lighter-sounding French pianos of the day, such as Pleyels, which were much less heavy than the concert grands of today. There are no serious problems of balance here for which credit must go to the sensitive Ian Brown and to the engineers. In fact the recorded sound is very satisfactory, placing the performers in a natural perspective and allowing a good amount of bloom round the sound without excessive reverberation.

These are good, sensitive and idiomatic performances of two great French chamber works. As far as I know this coupling is unique on CD. If the coupling appeals this CD is well worth adding to your collection.

John Quinn

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Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor op. 15
Allegro molto moderato
Allegro molto

Piano Trio
Pantoum - Assef vif
Passacaille - Tres large
Final - Anime

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