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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quintet No. 1 (1890-94) [31.39]
Piano Quintet No. 2 (1919-21) [34.20]
Quatuor Ebène (Pierre Colombet (violin I); Gabriel Le Magadure (violin II); Mathieu Herzog (viola); Raphaël Merlin (cello)); Éric Le Sage (piano)
rec. Maison de la Culture de Grenoble, 25-28 October 2010
ALPHA 602 [66:15]

 Of these two glowing piano quintets, each suffused with a serene nostalgia, it is the Second, written when the composer was at the end of his life, which appeals most. It was immediately lauded. The premiere audience was dazzled according to the author of the album’s notes, Nicolas Southon, who claims that the work is “perhaps his most important chamber score”.
The Second Piano Quintet begins with gentle rippling piano arpeggios. The viola presents the lovely main theme echoed by the other strings. After a passionate climax the second theme, another beauty is ushered in by the strings and made fugal before the piano softly embellishes it. The music proceeds ecstatically on its way. This is an entrancing opening movement and Éric Le Sage’s gentle poetic way with the music enchants. The quartet’s sensibilities are no less sympathetic to Fauré’s delicate idiom. The little Allegro vivo second movement is a gem. The piano scampers capriciously before the strings restrain with a gorgeous tender romantic waltz. Koechlin saw the imploring, heartfelt music that is the Andante moderato as evoking ‘arms stretched out towards a past that is never to return’. I am unashamed to admit that tears stood in my eyes through this exquisite movement. The concluding Allegro molto is more assured, it moves implacably with less sentiment affording the players the chance to assert their flair.
The First Piano Quintet composed about twenty-five years earlier, is cast in just three movements. It commences with many shimmering, watery arpeggios below the entry of the strings. They state a theme of sweet melancholy with the music becoming increasingly emotionally charged. As Southon observes one is reminded of the atmosphere of La bonne chanson, but sans the ‘shimmering sensuality’ - more a tendency towards austerity. The rounded Adagio’s poignant yearnings are sometimes brushed aside by a certain cool harshness while the concluding Allegretto moderato has a delightful freshness and youthfulness and is created in the spirit of a charming serenade.

Southon’s notes are a model of their kind and he includes a fascinating section where he draws a parallel between the creative aesthetics of Fauré and Marcel Proust who was writing À la recherche du temps perdu at about the time the composer was engaged on these works. Proust greatly admired Fauré’s music and wrote to the composer in the late 1890s: ‘Sir, not only do I like, admire and adore your music, but I was and still am in love with it.’
Fauré’s idiom never fails to move and the music of this album is no exception. This has to be a candidate for my choice of the 2013 recordings.  

Ian Lace