Even Barcarolle No 1 with its conventional 6/8 Venetian lilt is immediately coloured by dissonance, an enlivening of a superficially candy-sweet surface. As early as Barcarolles Nos 2 and 3, with their Italianate profusion of detail (the latter with ornaments which ‘crown the theme like sea foam’, according to Marguerite Long), Fauré’s writing is in a constant state of harmonic and rhythmic flux. Barcarolle No 4, though far less ambitious, modulates with sufficient novelty to delight those in search of poetic liberation, but once again Fauré effects a ‘change into something rich and strange’ in No 5. Here melody and rhythm (fragmented at the opening into terse, syncopated phrases) become virtually interchangeable, and the central tortuous development, commencing tranquillamente but rising to a Lisztian fortissimo uproar (one of two imposing climaxes) subsides in a coda like shifting sunset vapour, a close as astonishing as it is deeply assuaging. No 6 is relatively carefree, weaving its way from one idea to another before No 7 closes the door on such charm. Strange indeed both in sight and sound, its themes emerge wraith-like before being erased. In Nos 8, 10 and 11 one again senses Fauré’s musical style at its most recondite, his increasing compression often resulting in the most discordant juxtapositions. No 9 turns the lilting and romantic Barcarolle rhythm to morbid advantage and, like No 11 (that most remarkable of all the Barcarolles), simultaneously suggests momentum and a constant thwarting of impetus. It is therefore with some relief that one reaches No 12, a great favourite of Fauré’s (‘I composed it by licking it over like a bear does her cubs’), its fundamentally serene and marine motion leading to the final and profoundly conciliatory Barcarolle.
from notes by Bryce Morrison © 1995