For those who find the Fauréan ‘evanescence’ of Impromptus Nos 4 and 5 unsettling, the Thème et Variations
(1897) are reassuring. It is not that their Schumannesque theme (modelled on the Études Symphoniques
) is conventionally exploited, but that, for the greater part, Fauré resolutely retains his home key. A gentle rain of semiquavers in Variation I gives way to an animated syncopation in Variation II, extended to rapid alternations of duple and triple time in Variation III. Variation IV rejoices in candid virtuosity, with leaping grace notes accentuating the pace of events, while Variation V, despite its outwardly passive quavers, increases rather than diminishes such momentum. Variation VI dramatically stills this activity, proceeding in solemn, twice-decorated contrary motion, while Variation VII is a gentle double and quadruple canon. Variation VIII is a modification of Variation V (a case of wheels within wheels) and Variation IX, the nodal and expressive centre, was memorably described by Cortot as ‘a dark, lifted ecstasy, where on the high G sharp, the curve of the melody, the heart sinks down like a star in the evening’. Variation X is a glinting and ironic rather than playful scherzo with an explosive close, while Variation XI is an epilogue, concluding the Variations on a note of serene and optimistic benediction.
from notes by Bryce Morrison © 1995