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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No 2 in G minor, Op 45 [31:59]
Notre amour, Op 23 No 2 [1:36]
Les berceaux, Op 23 No 1 [2:36]
Après un rêve, Op 7 No 1 [2:52]
Clair de lune, Op 46, No 2 [2:37]
Mandoline, Op 58 No 1 (arr. for piano quartet by Dietrich Zöllner) [1:45]
Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor Op 15 [29:25]
Fauré Quartett - Erika Geldsetzer (violin), Sascha Frömbling (viola), Konstantin Heidrich (cello), Dirk Mommertz (piano)
rec. May 2020
BERLIN CLASSICS 0301422BC [72:57]

The Fauré Quartett. No, not the composer’s only string quartet, the Op 121, with the word “quartet” spelled in the German style. Rather, the Fauré Quartett is a piano quartet ensemble formed in 1995 in Karlsruhe and still playing today with its original members. After twenty-five years comment about their ensemble is superfluous. But their virtuosity and the depth of their readings of their expansive repertoire [see Mozart and Strauss/Mahler] are equally notable. For their twenty-fifth anniversary in 2020 the Quartett re-recorded their namesake works. The fact that 2020 was also the 175th anniversary of the birth of Fauré only adds to the occasion.

Along with his songs, chamber music forms the most significant part of Fauré’s output. The first three major chamber works, the Violin Sonata No 1 and the two Piano Quartets, are probably the most popular. The first Piano Quartet was written after the breakdown of the composer’s engagement to Marianne Viardot, daughter of the famous singer Pauline Viardot, in 1877. Although a passionate work, the emotion is kept under control, mostly revealing itself in the first movement in the composer’s inimitable harmonies and the contrast between the two main themes. Also notable is the recurrence of the second of these themes at the end of the movement. In the scherzo the strings follow the lead of the piano and Dirk Mummertz excels with Fauré’s idiosyncratic piano style. Very different is the mournful Adagio movement. Here the emotions are closer to the surface and the Quartett handles them well, although with a couple of bumps along the way. The final Allegro molto has been described as “unstoppable” and while this description is apt, the music should not be played in a headlong fashion, a point that the Quartett fully grasps.

The second Piano Quartet was written several years after the first and while there is no known outside impulse in this work as in the first, it is in some ways a more emotional work. After a magnificent opening Fauré’s developmental skills are at their finest, leading to a haunting but gentle coda. Some groups overdo the drama of the recapitulation in this movement, but the Quartett handles it with the appropriate balance. The scherzo is another perpetuum mobile, like the last movement of the first quartet, but shows greater refinement. There is no standard trio section, merely a lessening of tempo in the middle, but harmonically this movement has prepared us for the adagio- a plaintive song first heard on the viola and eventually becoming more passionate as it is taken up by the various instruments, before returning to the plaintive note. The abstract nature of this movement seems to point to the composer’s later chamber music. Fauré again provides contrast with a stormy opening for the final allegro molto, followed by a glorious second theme. Elements of all the movements return before being transformed into a joyous finale.

The idea of arranging several of Fauré’s best-known songs, roughly contemporaneous with the piano quartets, originally seemed to me ill-advised, but on hearing Dietrich Zöllner’s transcriptions I was surprised to see how well these versions worked. They are all lovely and make an excellent interlude between the two large chamber works. My guess is that the Quartett also uses them as encores for their recitals. If they don’t, I strongly recommend doing so.

Earlier I mentioned the Quartett’s excellent ensemble but one must also point out their choice of tempi and the skillful playing of the four individual musicians. The recording quality of this disc leaves something to be desired, but overall, I think this is as good a presentation of the quartets as has come along in some time.

William Kreindler

Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe

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