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Faure: Piano Quintets

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Audio CD, June 30, 2009
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Product Description

Gabriel Faure' chamber works, long overshadowed by his popular Requiem , are regaining their rightful place, as the success of his Violin Sonatas and Cello Sonatas attests. Dubbed the 'Master of Charm' by Debussy, Faure responded to the quasi-orches


One time student of Saint-Saëns, chief organist at the Église de la Madeleine, successor to Massenet as instructor of composition at the Paris Conservatory, and tutor to Ravel and Nadia Boulanger, Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) remains, in my opinion, one of France's most underestimated composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While most of his works have been recorded, some many times over, my sense is that he is still mostly known to the general music-loving public by a small sampling of his total output, namely the Requiem, the Pavane, the Elégie for cello and orchestra, and possibly excepts from the incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande and the Dolly Suite in its orchestral version. Those into the slightly more esoteric realm of the French chanson are likely to be familiar with some of the composer's large number of songs, and keyboard aficionados are apt to be acquainted with some of his pieces for solo piano. But for me, Fauré's most important contribution lies in his chamber works, not because they are necessarily any more alluring or beautifully crafted than any of his other compositions, but, as I've posited previously in these pages, because I believe they forge an otherwise missing link between Brahms and Debussy. The fluid treatment of harmony, the flexible shifting between major and minor tonalities, the acceptance of higher order ninth and 11th chords as integral to the harmonic unit, and the almost impressionist textures that one encounters in the late sets of Brahms's piano pieces are clear signposts on the way to Debussy, but the road stops considerably short of the symbolist-impressionism of the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. The highway connecting the two called for a bridge, and that bridge, I believe, was Fauré.

The Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor was not completed until 1906, but its genesis dates back as far as 1887. It opens onto a pristine dream world still innocent of Debussy's autoeroticism, but suffused with the throbbing pathos of Brahms. Fauré's score shimmers with the same dappled sunlight that is reflected through the trees onto the women's dresses in Renoir's Le moulin de la Galette. It's an effect that has to be seen in the painting and heard in the music to be fully appreciated. The Piano Quintet No. 2 in C Minor was written over a period of a little over two years, between 1919 and 1921, and dedicated to Dukas. Interestingly, the evolution in this work is not further in the direction Fauré had taken in the earlier quintet. The melodic lines are not as sinuous, neither is the harmony quite as vague. There is almost a return now to the cleaner, classical lines of Fauré's teacher, Saint-Saëns, though whether that French conservative would have approved of his student's parallel chromatic progressions is open to debate.

There are far fewer recordings of these two quintets than there are of Fauré's piano quartets, but among them one of the loveliest is with Domus on Hyperion, a CD I've cherished since it was released in 1995. Domus, of course, folded up its geodesic dome and went home several years ago, but thankfully Hyperion has kept this recording, at full price, thank you, in their catalog. Though you'd have to rob me of that disc at gunpoint, this new one with the Fine Arts Quartet and pianist Cristina Ortiz is definitely a keeper.

The Fine Arts Quartet was originally founded in 1946. Since then, it has undergone numerous changes in personnel. The roster of players on this 2007 recording are Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violins; Yuri Gandelsman, viola; and Wolfgang Laufer, cello. It should be noted that Gandelsman left the ensemble at the end of the 2008 season and was replaced on an interim basis by Chauncey Patterson. Outstanding as the Domus performances are, the Fine Arts Quartet and Ortiz manage to scent this music with a bouquet I can only describe as quintessentially French. In their hands, Fauré's music vibrates with a sentient tenderness almost too sad and too personal to be expressed. Beyond recommended, this is a mandatory purchase. -- Fanfare, Jerry Dubins, Nov/Dec 2009

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Product Details

  • Conductor: --
  • Composer: Faure
  • Audio CD (June 30, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0027DQHIW
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,300 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 8, 2009
Format: Audio CD
The Fauré Piano Quintets are not as well known as they should be. Indeed, that may be true of much of Fauré's music. It tends to be elusive, sometimes cryptic, sometimes hermetic in its construction and its appeal. But once one gets inside Fauré sound-world, one is won over. I've often said that I can recognize a piece as being by Fauré within the first two bars because his idiosyncratic use of harmony is so identifiable. That certainly is true of the Quintets. (It has always puzzled me that Fauré used to be referred to as the French Brahms. The only thing they have in common, as far as I can tell, is a predilection for using second inversion triads in the bass.) Although written fifteen years and more apart (1891/1906; 1921), the two pieces are very different but also very Fauré-esque. The Second is like a distillation, a pentimento of the First.

Both works are given subtle and musical performances here by the Fine Arts Quartet and pianist Cristina Ortiz. The Fine Arts Quartet, founded in 1946 and long resident at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, have a well-deserved reputation for music-making of the highest sort. I have positively reviewed their set of the Schumann Quartets Schumann: String Quartets Nos. 1-3 and the Mendelssohn String Quintets with violist Danilo Rossi Mendelssohn: String Quintets Nos. 1 & 2. Cristina Ortiz is a Brazilian pianist whose recording years ago of the Stenhammar concertos brought me to that poorly known Swedish composer, one who has since become an obsessive favorite of mine.
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Released in 2009, this recording has already received recognition as a classic. Scott Morrison's early and beautifully perceptive review here on Amazon was one of the first to recognize the special character of this disk. With the passage of a short time, the 2011 Gramophone Classical Music Guide described the CD as a "recording of legendary status, simply the best: an unrivaled cornerstone of the catalogue. A real gem!" This is high praise indeed as there are several other fine recordings of Faure's quintets available.

Faure (1845 -- 1924) composed his two piano quintets late in life. He worked on the Quintet No. 1 in d minor, op. 89, for many years before he finally completed it in 1906. The work was dedicated to the famous violinist Eugene Ysaye whose quartet performed the premiere. Faure composed the Quintet No. 2 in c minor op. 115 in 1919-1921. These quintets, both products of the 20th Century, are elusively romantic. The emotional range moves from melancholy to hard-won hope. As with other Faure chamber music, the piano quintets demand repeated hearings to appreciate. The surface of the works is lyrical and accessible but the music is subtle. The part writing is close and intricate, harmonies and rhythms change repeatedly, and passages of solo playing alternate with ensemble sections and counterpoint. The music flows seamlessly through its many changes of direction. Keith Anderson's liner notes offer good movement-by-movement descriptions of each work. These descriptions do not adequately capture what the listener hears in terms of their internal flow and unity.

The three-movement d minor quintet has a long slow movement as its heart which begins quietly in individual voices and works to a large climax before fading away.
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Very powerful, even strange music, about as far to the edge of the beautiful as we can go without losing track of the beautiful. I know many might be better able to travel to yet more remote frontiers without losing sight of the beautiful, but these quintets are truly take-notice works. So much in Faure sounds unfamiliar, yet as if we should recall it. These quintets have an inner rise and fall, an undulation rather than a rhythm, no heartbeat drawn from human nature, but from some great mother nature. These are well-regarded performances, and the recording quality is excellent.
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