FAURE: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 15; Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45 – Adaskin String Trio/Sally Pinkas, piano – MSR MS 1293, 63:04 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:
The chamber music of Gabriel Faure always projects a special allure, its blend of dark intimacy and modal harmonies, along with a deft sense of instrumentation, make for gravely somber yet affirming pathos. The C Minor Piano Quartet (1880) proves the rule, its austere, opening C Minor colored by the B-flat that exploits a Lydian bias. The viola provides some relief with a lyric melody, while the piano offers syncopated, restless figures. The emotional fevers turn inward in the manner of Schumann, the gravity subdued and stoical.
We are hardly ready for the feathery stuff of the Scherzo, the gambols between 2/4 and 6/8 that might have been lifted from an inebriate Mendelssohn. The keyboard literally skips the light fantastic, insisting on its 6/8 pastorals in a breezy, boulevard style that sparkles like Scarlatti while it belies whatever seriousness the muted strings imply. Piano and cello set the lugubrious, noble tone of the Adagio; even with the piano’s especial color and texture, we feel the influence of the late Beethoven string quartets. The violin introduces a sweet, sad tune over a barcarolle rhythm in the keyboard, the ensemble’s intensifying, surely, but never losing its impassive demeanor. Falling arpeggios in the piano suggest a nocturne indebted to Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann, but entirely of Faure’s idiosyncratic device. The dotted opening theme of the finale, coupled with the explosive keyboard part, smacks of Cesar Franck, a combination of chorale and march. Once more, the viola introduces lyrical balm for the surging passions that do not cease. The cello’s contribution is a misty, resigned figure the piano forcefully rejects in favor of hot-blooded runs. The cello’s theme, however, will reassert itself in the major to close this brilliant, often liquid, chamber piece with exquisite streaks of light.
The G Minor Piano Quartet (1887) marks the mature Faure style, a synthesis of elements derived from the cyclicists Franck, Saint-Saens, and Liszt, and the harmonic modulations of Schubert. Long, sinewy melody crosses with intimate textures between viola and cello, the harmonic shifts moving at an extraordinary rate as to defy traditional, chromatic harmony. A detached calm permeates the piece, despite the angular, surface agitation of the stretti. The C Minor Scherzo stands among the more violent of Faure’s creations, syncopated, angry, and consistently forte or fortissimo. We look to Liszt or the dark side of Chopin for ferocity on this internalized scale, the materials transmuted from the opening movement. The piano and viola announce the dialogue of bells and chorale that characterize the other-worldly Adagio, as intensely plastic as it is serene. Neapolitan harmonies pass by in the form of shades of past loves and torments, but they no longer hurt as once they did. The last movement surges with a vehement energy straight from Chopin’s D Minor Prelude. Relentless, the music moves on superheated triplets, ostinati, and chorale motives that recall Franck and Liszt, now wrought by anguished lyricism. At times, violinist Ngai and pianist Pinkas convert the music to a variation of Chausson’s Concerto for Piano, Violin and String Quartet. The last pages build a monumental crescendo in the major that triumphs over all adversity.
Prior to this inscription (rec. 21-23 June 2004, at Spaulding Auditorium at Dartmouth College), I knew this gifted, Canadian trio and Israeli pianist Sally Pinkas not at all; but after these ferociously gorgeous Faure readings, I want to know them much better.