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Hyperion Records

CDA66166 - Fauré: Piano Quartets
Le Boulevard de la Madeleine by Eugène Gallien-Laloue (1854-1941)
Reproduced by permission of Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries
CDA66166

Recording details: February 1985
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: September 1986
DISCID: 630E9408
Total duration: 61 minutes 47 seconds

GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNER
PREIS DER DEUTSCHEN SCHALLPLATTENKRITIK
TÉLÉRAMA ÉVÉNEMENT EXCEPTIONELLE, FRANCE
PENGUIN GUIDE ROSETTE
BBC 'BUILDING A LIBRARY' BEST RECORDING
CLASSIC CD 100 GREATEST DISCS OF THE DECADE
DIAPASON D'OR

'It's a long time since I've enjoyed a record so much on so many counts—performance, recording, presentation… and the music itself' (Gramophone)

'These performances of Fauré’s piano quartets from Domus are a highlight of the label and should be in every collection…an exquisitely vivacious reading. These sublime accounts have been without peer in this extraordinary contrasting pair of chamber masterpieces' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Music-making at the highest level of accomplishment' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'[An] exceptional disc. The performances rank with the best I know' (International Record Review)

'Remains one of the freshest and most enchanting recordings available of Fauré’s piano quartets' (Amazon.co.uk)

Piano Quartets
Adagio  [7'09]
Allegro molto  [7'50]
Allegro molto  [3'19]
Adagio non troppo  [10'20]
Allegro molto  [7'57]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The 1870s were a particularly eventful period in the life of Gabriel Fauré. In 1871 he was invited by his teacher, Saint-Saëns, to join the newly formed Société Nationale de Musique Française where he became acquainted with Franck, d’Indy, Lalo, Bizet, Duparc and other prominent French musicians, and heard many of his compositions for the first time. Saint-Saëns also performed the valuable service of introducing Fauré to fashionable Paris society. The soirées of the famous contralto Pauline Viardot made a particularly strong impression on the young composer; there he met Flaubert, Turgenev, Georges Sand and the historian and critic Ernest Renan, and before long he had fallen in love with Mme Viardot’s daughter, Marianne. Despite Marianne’s shyness, Fauré persisted in his attentions for nearly five years, and in July 1877 the couple finally became engaged. It seems, however, that Fauré’s passion was unreciprocated, for Marianne broke off the engagement within four months and afterwards confessed that she had found her fiancé more intimidating than endearing.

It was during the later stages of this frustrating relationship that Fauré began work on his First Piano Quartet. However, despite the dark C minor tonality, there is little sense of personal tragedy in this music. As with the other outstanding masterpiece of this ‘first period’, the A major Violin Sonata (Op 13), intensity of feeling is balanced by a concern for elegance and formal lucidity. As Fauré himself remarked to the composer Florent Schmitt: “To express that which is within you with sincerity, in the clearest and most perfect manner, would seem to me the ultimate goal of art.”

The first movement (Allegro molto moderato) is in a fairly conventional sonata form: even so, one should not expect a powerful, closely argued drama à la Beethoven. Fauré is a lyricist, not a dramatist: melodic evolution is continuous from first to last bar, and textural transitions are always skilfully dovetailed. Even the final appearance of the dotted opening theme in the major is accomplished without any sense of theatre.

The Scherzo (Allegro vivo) is a gloriously lighthearted affair. Pizzicato string chords, pianissimo, prepare the way for a delicious air-borne piano theme which hovers teasingly between the tonic E flat and the first movement’s C minor. Frequent alternations between 6/8 and 2/4 add a touch of humour, but for the most part the music is light as thistledown. Muted strings attempt to introduce an element of sobriety in the central trio section, but their efforts are deflated by the piano’s rippling triplets and quasi-pizzicato bass line.

The Adagio, in C minor, is one of Fauré’s finest slow movements. Here one gains more than a hint of his feelings during that ultimately traumatic year of 1877. Nevertheless, the emotion is always nobly restrained, with not even the slightest hint of self-indulgence. The solemn opening theme would not be out of place in a liturgical work (parts of the Requiem were also written during 1877), but the conciliatory coda has a quality of intimacy which is appropriate only to chamber music.

Fauré was evidently dissatisfied with the original finale, for he rewrote it ‘from top to toe’ in 1883, three years after the Quartet’s first performance. For all its furious energy, melodic continuity is as important here as in any of the other movements. The second subject, first presented in E flat major, is a particularly memorable inspiration, and it comes as no surprise when Fauré uses this theme to crown his exultant C major coda.

Comparatively little is known about the history of the Second Piano Quartet. It was probably composed some time during the years 1885/86, just after Fauré had been awarded the Prix Chartier by the Academy of Fine Arts for his chamber music. The Second Quartet is undoubtedly one of the pinnacles of his chamber output and it is difficult to understand why this superbly crafted and melodically generous work has never managed to achieve the popularity of the First. As in the Second Violin Sonata (Op 108), themes from the first movement crop up in various guises in later movements, but Fauré’s use of thematic cross-reference is subtler, less melodramatic, than in the so-called ‘cyclical’ works of Liszt or César Franck.

The first movement (Allegro molto moderato) begins with an ardent unison string melody from whose contours many subsequent themes are derived. In broad formal terms this movement resembles the opening Allegro of the First Quartet, but here Fauré places greater weight on the coda, which contains some of his most gorgeous harmonic sidesteps.

The two middle movements are in complete contrast: an unusually violent C minor scherzo with a breathless syncopated piano theme is followed by a serene Adagio. The gentle undulating piano figure which opens the slow movement was apparently inspired by a memory of the evening bells of the village of Cadirac which Fauré frequently heard as a child. Aaron Copland wrote of this movement that ‘its beauty is truly classic if we define classicism as intensity on a background of calm’.

Passion and violence are again let loose in the finale (Allegro molto). The relentless forward drive of this movement is quite unlike anything else in Fauré: even the finale of the First Quartet manages an occasional pause for reflection. Incredible though it may seem, Fauré manages to keep something in reserve for the coda: an electrifying crescendo, culminating in a massive ‘più mosso’ restatement of the second subject in G major. The final bars are pure joy.

Stephen Johnson © 1986

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