Movement 1: Allegro molto moderato
Movement 2: Allegro molto
Movement 3: Adagio non troppo
Movement 4: Allegro molto
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.
from notes by Stephen Johnson © 1986