Fauré’s greatest piano works, the Nocturnes
and Barcarolles, both number a lucky thirteen. The title, ‘Nocturne’, is again more convenient than precise, an evocation of alternating light and darkness, of passion and serenity, and the pieces have a tendency to follow Chopin’s example in contrasting tranquil outer sections with central episodes of greater turbulence or animation (Nos 2, 5, 6 and 13 are all richly varied examples of this structure). Nocturne No 1, which, as so often with Fauré, turns a potential commonplace (the left-hand vamped accompaniment) to advantage, is cloistered and elegiac, though with a central section where eddying sextuplets stalk and menace the right-hand melody. Fauré’s love of syncopation is at its most gentle in No 3, his nostalgia lit by passion continued through No 3 to No 4 (a Nocturne which Cortot found rather too satisfied with its own languor). Nocturne No 5 delights in its iridescence (that tantallizing A flat in bar 2, the unexpected arrival on E natural in bar 5 and the resolution of such tricky manoeuvring in the A natural of bar 7). No 6 ranks among the most rich and eloquent of all Fauré’s piano works, wandering as if absent-mindedly from the home key only to return to it with magical resource, and including an allegro moderato alive with the bird-song of the Ballade. All such luxury of endlessly evolving phrases gives way in Nocturne No 7 to a bleaker utterance, one where one can almost feel Fauré fighting towards the light, beset with an increasing sense of doubt and despair. Here, once more, is that sable world of attenuated sentences and sudden anger, though it is unforgettably resolved in a dreaming coda, where emotion is truly ‘recollected in tranquillity’.
from notes by Bryce Morrison © 1995