As with an increasing number of jazz and classical performers, the Ysaÿe Quartet has their self-owned CD label. Quality-wise all their releases stand out with a bound book design (this one has 86 pages in several languages) and superb engineering on the recordings. In fact I find this one not that different from some of the SACDs of similar chamber fare (except of course there’s no surround capability).
To put Franck’s three masterpieces of chamber music together is an excellent idea, stimulated by the fact that the famous violinist after whom the quartet is named premiered most of Franck’s principal chamber works. Franck didn’t write chamber music during most of his career but late in life created these three great scores. The String Quartet is a work of imposing length and makes use of the composer’s cyclic structure. But it also uses as a model Beethoven’s layout of his Ninth Symphony. Franck clearly reintroduces the themes from all the previous movements at the beginning of the final movement of the quartet, culminating the cycle.
The Piano-Violin Sonata of 1886 is Franck’s best-known chamber work. It closely follows the structure of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 101. The interval of a third is a strong focus of the work, as it assumes different forms in the various movements. Ysaÿe himself hailed the fine qualities of the sonata and played it regularly to the end of his career. There are many recordings of the work to choose from. I’d been partial to a live and very passionate David Oistrakh & Gilels recording, but Rogé and Guillaume Sutre are just as passionate and the recording quality is more transparent, with a wider dynamic range.
Brahms’ Piano Quintet Op. 34 was Franck’s model for his Quintet, but he departed in several ways from the model – using just three movements instead of four, and using his cyclic principle heavily thruout the work. It is very chromatic but full of the lovely and expressive melodic lines that easily engage many listeners to Franck’s music. The Quintet is a very rich work and in the Ysaÿe’s fine performance and exemplary recording provides an exciting conclusion to this exquisite double album.
– John Sunier