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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: 22 minutes 56 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 E minor
composer
1923/4; 2nd movement composed first and completed 12 September 1923; the whole completed 12 September 1924

Allegro moderato  [6'03]
Andante  [8'34]
Allegro  [8'19]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
By 1920 the seventy-five-year-old Fauré’s hearing problems could no longer be disguised and he was, at the very least, encouraged to leave his post as Conservatoire director. The remaining four years of his life contained many melancholy moments when he even longed for death. But, as his son Philippe recalled: ‘[He] could still surprise us by appearing really active. One day some friends had taken him out to dinner and he came back quite late in a mood of bravura, with his hat over one ear. A sparkling dining room, bright dresses, a breath of society atmosphere, something lively and unexpected had been enough to lift his spirits, and he declared himself ready to go and paint the town red!’ It has to be said that there is little, if anything, painted red in the String Quartet. Nonetheless, the energy can still be sensed, transferred from the social to the intellectual sphere.

On 9 September 1923 Fauré wrote to his wife: ‘I’ve started a Quartet for strings, without piano. It’s a medium in which Beethoven was particularly active, which is enough to give all those people who are not Beethoven the jitters!’ To start himself off he went back to a couple of themes from an abandoned violin concerto of 1878. The changes he made were mostly to the rhythms, but the first theme, heard here on the first violin as an answer to the viola’s opening question, now boasts a Phrygian F natural in its E minor contour instead of the original F sharp. It is a sign of his self-confidence that, at a time when Les Six were indeed painting Paris red and Schoenberg was inventing a system that would ensure German musical supremacy for a hundred years, Fauré should continue to engage with the modal writing that had served him well for so long. The movement is in sonata form, with the viola’s questioning phrase removed for the reprise and, as usual, the whole process now made more compact.

The Andante was the first movement Fauré composed, finishing it on 12 September 1923, and to that extent it lends its sober, meditative tone to the whole quartet. As in the first movement, scales and scalic fragments play a large part, set off against the occasional octave leap. There is a straightforward reprise of the opening just before halfway, but few other formal landmarks that can be heard easily. Possibly a more rewarding activity for the listener is simply to go with the dynamic highs and lows: bars of crescendo and diminuendo vastly outnumber those that are static and these changes often operate over a small period of time. In all likelihood Fauré would have echoed the remark of his pupil Ravel, that performers tended to make his crescendos too limited in range. The other feature that repays attention is the interplay of thematic fragments, nearly always generating different harmonies each time, and whose resolution is rarely what we expect.

On the day he completed the quartet, 12 September 1924, exactly a year after finishing the slow movement, Fauré mentioned to his wife the possibility of a short movement to come between the first and second, ‘but as there’s no real necessity for it, I won’t exhaust myself searching for one’. Presumably this would have been in the nature of a scherzo, as in the Franck quartet. If this was not in fact necessary, it was because the last movement, ‘light and cheerful’ in the composer’s own words, does duty for a scherzo. Again formal landmarks are probably of less value to the listener than motivic and rhythmic patterns, in particular the one introduced by the cello in the third bar, an up/down figure characterized by its distinctive rhythm, achieved by tying a quaver triplet to a duplet. This becomes especially insistent in the lead-up to the final bars, at which point, for the first and only time in the quartet, we hear unhampered triplets—clearly a deliberate self-denying ordinance. The explosion of joy they signal emphasizes a triumphant arrival in E major.

No startling interruptions, then, no sudden silences or wild diversions, no magical harmonics or moments of lush self-indulgence. Instead, Fauré perfectly realizes the prescription d’Indy offered with regard to Franck’s quartet: ‘to obtain that variety in unity which is the medium’s essential condition, a thorough maturity of spirit and talent, combined with an experienced technical grasp, is absolutely indispensable.’

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2008

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