PIERNE: Piano Quintet in E Minor; VIERNE: String Quartet in D Minor – Piers Lane, piano/ Goldner String Q. – Hyperion

PIERNE: Piano Quintet in E Minor, Op. 41; VIERNE: String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 12 – Piers Lane, piano/ Goldner String Quartet – Hyperion CDA 68036, 63:23 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (3-31-14) ****:

Gabriel Pierne (1863-1937) composed his Piano Quintet in E Minor in 1919, having dedicated the work to Gabriel Faure. The music (rec. 8-10 May 2013) combines the idiosyncratic harmony of the Niedermeier School that defines Faure’s idiom and the dark chromaticism we know from Cesar Franck. The opening Moderato movement remains relatively subdued, only occasionally breaking out into passionate or anguished expressiveness. Most of the time, all five instruments play together, rather a symphonic sound based on four-note ostinato patterns that occasionally hint at a Basque or Iberian character. The secondary tune employs a triplet followed by dotted notes. Some two-thirds of the way into the movement, the strings become buzzingly agitated, while the piano rings with huge block chords that easily invoke Franck’s own romantic exercise in this medium. The ostinato, four-note pattern returns as the sonorities float away into a quiet coda.

Much as Ravel experimented with “Eastern” rhythmic patterns in say, his Piano Trio, so too Pierne applies his gifts for musical transformation to the zortzico of the Basque area of Spain.  The dance keeps five beats to the bar, with dotted rhythms that permit Pierne to alter 5/8 with 4/8 ad libitum. The second movement, then, becomes a haunted exercise in variable colors and metrics, especially as the cello (Julian Smiles) and first violin (Dene Olding) play off the sonorities of the keyboard. Pierne manages to combine his sliding meters and his secondary tune into a curious amalgam 20/8 while the music traverses a modal scale, quite exotic. Increasingly hazy, the music seems to drift until the violins, in tune and in harmonics, move us into Faure’s rarified, veiled world. The extended mist finally resolves itself in warm D-flat Major.

Franck’s cyclical principle of composition sets the tone of the last movement: Lent – Allegro vivo ed agitato, first by recalling the opening bars of movement one and then the zortzico. Franck’s love of counterpoint via Bach likewise comes to the fore, increasing in tempo until a radiant E Major breaks loose.  Piers Lane exhibits a series of motley colors in this movement, plastically quick and all liquid, even in the throes of elongated staccato figures. A decidedly Franckian secondary theme arises in muted colors, made earthy by the viola (Irina Morozova) in concert with the two violins (Dene Olding and Dimity Hall).   The development has the piano’s playing a trumpet tune or a snare drum, or gliding in harp-like curlicues. The modal elements several times nod to Debussy and Ravel as kindred spirits, but the concertante writing waxes larger than those allusions. The zortzico undergoes a series of transfusions of 5/8, 4/8, and 3/8, and a heady bloodline it maintains. The last pages bustle and tumble in metric asymmetries, exotic and admittedly captivating, a real moment of musical intrigue to ears that think they’ve heard it all.

Louis Vierne (1870-1937) secured his reputation through organ works and organ playing in the footsteps of Charles Widor and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Vierne’s String Quartet in D Minor dates from 1894, cast in conservative Franckian lines, alternating D Minor with F Major.  Although the theme bears a vague family resemblance to the opening of the Ravel F Major Quartet, with an active cello part, the working out proves less dramatic than moodily academic. The second movement Intermezzo: Leggiero non troppo vivo borrows fairy elements from Mendelssohn and Berlioz, respectively, skittering and scampering in hushed pizzicatos and tremolos, charming but essentially innocuous. The Andante quasi adagio gives us a standard, ternary format in which the viola sets the tone, and the Goldner ensemble does invest some intimate yearning into its figures. The melodic content remains tame and subdued, less an inspiration than an expression of a salon melancholy. The last pages introduce a pedal A for the coda of eighteen measures. The D Minor mode will cede to the major mode for the finale: Allegro vivace, all by way of two contrasting ideas set out in formal design that academics would expect from Beethoven or Mendelssohn, if they were mere pedagogues who manipulate polyphony.  Despite the Goldner’s obviously talented and sincere efforts, they cannot communicate any singular urgency to inhabit this pleasant but undistinguished work.

—Gary Lemco

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