Movement 1: Allegro deciso
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro commodo
Another feature of Fauré’s late works is that for many of them he went back and took themes in unpublished pieces from his earlier life and reworked them. In the D minor Sonata, composed between May and August 1917, the opening theme of the first movement is based on that from the Allegro deciso of the unpublished Symphony in D minor of 1884, now rhythmically tightened and made more forceful. Clearly we are in a different world from the smoothly gliding cello of the Élégie. Fauré’s son Philippe, writing after his father’s death, even touched on his deafness as a possible cause: ‘One has the feeling that the strings sound somewhat lower than he intended, that they grate and run out of energy.’ But Philippe, born in 1889, had grown up with his father’s middle-period works. To the modern ear, energy is precisely what this movement possesses, and in abundance.
The Andante presents a peaceful contrast, alternating between two themes: a dotted, leaping one, on the lines of a sarabande, and a closer, more regular one which, in Robert Orledge’s words, ‘is perhaps the nearest Fauré comes to Ravel’s combination of purity and melancholy’. In one of his few concessions to the colouristic activities of his French contemporaries, he decorates this second theme with bell-like echoes in the piano’s right hand, rather in the manner of his First Nocturne of c1875. The music rises to a central climax, then slowly subsides, the opening G minor now turned to major.
The tempo of the final Allegro commodo is the subject of some dispute. The marking crotchet=80 on the first edition is not confirmed by any autograph source and, by the consent of cellists in general, is impossibly slow. (Tortelier, who had practised the movement at this speed on his own, was won over to a faster tempo by Éric Heidsieck—on the day of their recording!) It could be said that an emphasis on the ‘allegro’ rather than the ‘commodo’ reveals the sunny temper of the movement, even if more care then has to be taken over the clarity of the various canonic passages. It may also help the listener during the many moments of ‘harmonic drift’ so typical of the late Fauré: at a faster tempo, landmarks appear more often. On the other hand, a slower tempo does have its charms. Effectively, the whole movement is one long development section, with the triumphant ending signalled from some way back.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2012