FRANCK: Piano Quintet in f minor; DEBUSSY: String Quartet – Takacs Quartet/ Marc-Andre Hamelin, p. – Hyperion

Wonderful performances of some lesser heard masterworks.

CÉSAR FRANCK: Piano Quintet in f minor; CLAUDE DEBUSSY: String Quartet in g minor – Takacs Quartet/ Marc-Andre Hamelin, p. – Hyperion CDA68061, 62:25 (5/22/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

While Debussy and his music are widely known, his string quartet – an immensely lovely sole work of its type – is certainly less familiar than his orchestral works and much of his piano music. Countryman César Franck is, regrettably, a much less familiar composer save the Symphony in D minor or, perhaps, his orchestral poem Le Chausseur Maudit (“The Accursed Huntsman”.) So, this simply beautiful paring is very welcome and, for me, especially having the Franck Piano Quintet.

The amazing Takacs Quartet has recorded for Hyperion before and often in this combination of a piano quintet work and a similarly-styled string quartet. The Franck is a big, beautiful and passionate work; one that actually earned the composer a lot of vilification at the time for its sweeping Romanticism – simply not “French” enough, it seemed.

The piano truly controls the opening movement, and Marc-Andre Hamelin’s sensitivity to the style bolsters the sensual nature of Franck’s writing. The Takács Quartet becomes equally engaged and makes the most of the piece’s “hyper-Romantic” moments with firm but passionate playing. The second movement is a longing, sort of forlorn work with lovely melodies and rich harmonies. The texture is more unified in the third movement, where the piano lines wind their way up through the thick chords in the strings, who proclaim an elegant theme repeated from the first movement. I found myself fully involved in this work, especially that second movement and the playing of all five participants is just amazing.

Debussy’s four-movement String Quartet is, indeed, his only work of this type. The Takács Quartet gives us a stellar and crystalline performance, with swirling lines of the first movement, pizzicato like stars illuminating in the second and a very mysteriously lovely third movement. The finale is known by string players to contain both rhythmic blocks and harmonies never before heard in a string quartet and the Takács give us everything the composer intended and make us wish Debussy had written more.

This is a beautiful recording with amazing performances and here’s to hoping for more from Hyperion featuring the Takacs in this type of pairing. There are so many fabulous works to pair up!  The sound quality is warm and intimate and everything about this disc is a treat!  [Too bad it’s not a surround SACD as Hyperion used to do many of. There are four SACD versions of the Debussy Quartet available and an excellent DVD-Audio on Tacet…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs

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