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Hyperion Records

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Sunset at Eragny (1890) by Camille Pissarro (1831-1903)
Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Bequest of Johanna & Ludovic Lawrence / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67664
Recording details: December 2007
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: August 2008
Total duration: 43 minutes 59 seconds

'This is a notably well-recorded disc; we're placed, it seems, right in the middle of the music-making, and from the opening bars of the Franck we feel the intensity of the Dante's commitment … by turns vigorous and tender, and with impressive variety of expression … playing of great accomplishment' (Gramophone)

'This is a fascinating juxtaposition … sublime, yet undervalued masterpieces. The Dante Quartet are superb advocates, especially in the Franck, where they are without peer among modern accounts' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Written just before his death in an accident in 1890, Franck's only string quartet pumps with nervous energy and heady hothouse emotions, brilliantly realised here by the Dante players' (The Independent)

'This latest disc of Franck and Fauré marks the beginning of a new relationship with Hyperion, which could not have begun on a better note' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This new disc by the Dante Quartet leaves a strong impression … this version of the Fauré quartet is one to which I shall happily return. There are moments of the most ravishing beauty in this ultra-refined score, and the Dante relish these most sensitively … Hyperion's recording sounds extremely natural, and the disc is enhanced by fine notes from Roger Nichols' (International Record Review)

'This is a wonderfully played pairing of perhaps the two greatest of all French string quartets … it is a measure of the outstanding quality of the Dante Quartet that both works are projected as vividly and immediately as they are. There's such a passionate involvement about their playing, such belief in the music's outstanding qualities … it's an outstanding disc' (The Guardian)

'No dithering with the Dante Quartet in their Hyperion debut: they plunge into whatever they play with passion, energy and communal spirit … the Franck dazzles with its boisterous invention; the Fauré cools brows with its thoughtful restraint. To both the players bring the same expertise and vast colour range. And the recording's superb … don't hestitate' (The Times)

'Played with the impassioned commitment that it demands and that it inspires in the excellent Dante Quartet, [Franck] is an imposing piece, not least its eloquent slow movement … the Dante play it [Fauré] with conspicuous beauty and conviction' (The Sunday Times)

'The Dante Quartet's triumph is that it doesn't allow itself to fall into the trap of over-stressing the austerity of Fauré's language, but instead chooses to let his remarkable inventiveness and strength of spirit shine out. Franck's String Quartet in D is also performed with great depth of feeling and sensitivity' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The string quartet in D [Franck] both looks back to the serious intent of Brahms and Beethoven, yet contains fresh (and youthful) language that could so easily take him into the languid modernism of Ravel and Debussy. This performance by the Dante Quartet captures that delicious ambivalence. Fauré's soft-spun E minor String Quartet makes a perfect partner work' (The Scotsman)

'The music is played with absolute commitment and intensity' (Manchester Evening News)

String Quartet in D major
begun spring 1889; first performed at the Salle Pleyel on 19 April 1890

Scherzo: Vivace  [4'59]
Larghetto  [10'24]
Allegro molto  [12'50]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The outcome from Franck’s study of the scores of Beethoven, Schubert and (even) Brahms quartets betrays their influence only in the most general sense—a Beethovenian seriousness of purpose in all movements except the second, and a penchant for rich textures that might be dubbed Brahmsian. Franck’s desire to break new ground is evident, most notably in the structure of the first movement. Here he combines traditional sonata form with the ternary form of the lied, to give the overall shape A-B-A'-B'-A, in which A (Poco lento) is the cyclic theme (or as d’Indy charmingly calls it, ‘l’idée mère’), B (Allegro) is the sonata exposition and B' the development and recapitulation. As a further refinement, the central lied section (A') develops the cyclic theme as a fugue, beginning on the viola. The result of all this is that we hear the four instruments struggling, through the means of sonata form, to recapture the radiance of the opening lied, and failing. It is only with the reprise of the opening bars, varied and abbreviated, that the movement reaches a truly satisfying conclusion.

Not surprisingly, this movement gave Franck considerable trouble, going through at least three different versions. The end of the final version is dated 29 October 1889 (duration given as seventeen minutes), but by 9 November the following Scherzo was done, the autograph showing hardly any crossings-out. This movement shows a Franck that had not really appeared so far in his chamber music, though we can hear traces in the lovely symphonic poem Les Eolides: not the pater seraphicus so much as the pater jocularis, telling jokes and pulling rabbits out of hats. The atmosphere is Mendelssohnian in its lightness and wit, even if Franck engages in harmonic twists that lay outside Mendelssohn’s vocabulary. The discourse is also shot through with sudden silences, as though questioning the propriety of the whole enterprise—silences whose force was surely not lost on the young Debussy, who a few years later was to claim silence as one of his most fruitful discoveries.

The spirit of Mendelssohn also hovers over the Larghetto, in Franck’s favourite B major, setting up a mediant relationship with the overall D major that he may possibly have copied from Brahms. Again, the opening theme of this movement gave him considerable trouble and d’Indy recounts how, arriving at Franck’s flat one day, he was greeted by cries of ‘I’ve found it!’ even before they had shaken hands. But Franck’s inspiration needs more space than Mendelssohn’s—in this case thirty-three bars, of which every one, while sometimes taking surprising steps in the argument, in retrospect seems inevitable. The form is a rondo with the opening theme repeated almost unchanged, except for transposition up an octave before the brief coda marked ‘recitando’, which makes much of the theme’s triplet figures.

The finale offers obeisance to Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in quoting from previous movements (here in the order 3, 2, 1) before launching on its own course—though its first theme borrows the descending triad from the ‘idée mère’, likewise beginning on an upbeat. The movement adheres to traditional sonata form, but it is no surprise, after the opening reminiscences, to find them again in the final pages, though now worked into a coherent structure. Here at last we can enjoy the blaze of D major denied us at the end of the first movement.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2008

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