Notes and Editorial Reviews
CHAUSSON Concert in D for Piano, Violin, and String Quartet.1 String Quartet (comp. d’Indy) • Doric Str Qrt; 1Jennifer Pike (vn); 1Tom Poster (pn) • CHANDOS 10754 (68:14)
Ernest Chausson’s life was suddenly and tragically cut short at the age of 44 when he pedaled his bicycle full speed ahead
into a brick wall. The possibility of suicide has been suggested, for how else could such a thing happen unless one were smashed out of his head (no pun intended) or hell-bent on self-destruction? One could cite the composer’s untimely demise as the reason for his relatively short list of works—just 39 with opus number and another two dozen, mostly songs, without—but it might also be said that many composers who died much younger were far more prolific.
What all can agree upon, I think, is that mostly everything Chausson wrote is of very high quality and of exquisite beauty. Many know his music only from his famous Poème for Violin and Orchestra, written for Eugène Ysaÿe; for his song, Chansons perpétuelle and song cycle Poème de l’amouret de la mer; and for his Concert for Piano, Violin, and String Quartet on this disc. But beyond these popular items there lies a body of song at least equal to if not unsurpassed by the songs of any French composer. There is also a symphony not to be taken for granted, as well as a handful of very fine chamber works—the string quartet on this disc being one of them—that deserve more recognition than they’ve been accorded.
At first I was a bit surprised to receive this CD for review, for in three of my prior encounters with the Doric String Quartet, the ensemble has struck out; and usually, after the third strike, I’m strongly disinclined to grant yet another hearing. In this case, however, I’m glad I did. The C-Minor String Quartet, while hardly absent from the catalog, offers less competition than the Concert, and the Doric’s new account of the work definitely merits consideration. A strong contender, especially now that it has been transferred to Hyperion’s mid-price Helios label, is the version by the Chilingirian String Quartet, a recording of more than passing interest for its coupling, d’Indy’s rarely heard D-Major String Quartet, op. 35. Still, the current performance of the Chausson quartet by the Doric is exceptionally well played, luminous of tone, transparent of recording, and fragrant with the composer’s perfumed French atmosphere. The C-Minor Quartet is presumably the last thing Chausson wrote. He was still working on it in late May 1899, less than three weeks before his fatal encounter with the brick wall—if only he’d been wearing a helmet. Actually, the quartet was very nearly complete when Chausson died; only a few bars of recapitulation were needed to round off the third movement, and they were provided by d’Indy. Yet the work still bears the stigma, “Inachève” (Incomplete).
To the extent that numbers of recordings determine a work’s popularity, the Concert for Piano, Violin, and String Quartet would appear to be Chausson’s second most popular piece. But the gap between it and the Poème for Violin and Orchestra, the composer’s most popular piece, is huge—nearly 100 for the Poème versus approximately 25 for the Concert. Still, among those 25, a few offer significant competition to this new Doric version with pianist Tom Poster and violinist Jennifer Pike.
First off, there are a couple of recordings of some historical interest: one featuring Jacques Thibaud and Alfred Cortot, the other featuring Zino Francescatti and Robert Casadesus with the Guilet String Quartet. Both, of course, are in mono, and the 1931 Thibaud/Cortot recording, which has circulated on Biddulph and Opus Kura, leaves much to be desired sonically. Among stereo versions, though not the most recent, are two recordings, which, in my opinion, are not particularly distinguished performance-wise, but they do enjoy the benefit of artist-name recognition. They are Itzhak Perlman and Jorge Bolet with the Juilliard Quartet on Sony/CBS Masterworks, and Joshua Bell and Jean-Yves Thibaudet with the Takács Quartet on Decca.
Frankly, my current favorite version, and one of the most recent, happens to be Naxos’s recording with Stephen Shipps, Eric Larsen, and the Wihan Quartet. Granted, I wasn’t thrilled with the Wihan’s Beethoven, reviewed in 33:4, but the ensemble’s somewhat softer-cored sound strikes me as better at blending Chausson’s luxuriant harmonies. In fairness, however, I should mention that Steven Kruger, who reviewed the Naxos disc in 35:4, was not favorably disposed towards it. Much of one’s reaction to various performances of the piece is, of course, subjective. I find the Perlman/Bolet/Juilliard reading a bit on the strident side and presented as a double concerto accompanied by a string quartet instead of as a piece of chamber music. The Bell/Thibaudet/Takács team-up, on the other hand, I find not well balanced, perhaps the result of the recording mix.
The more I listen to this new Chandos release with the Doric Quartet joined by Poster and Pike, the more I like it. The piece is a strange hybrid, combining elements of concerto and chamber work, and leaving performers to figure out how best to approach it. A middle-ground approach seems to work best, and that’s the solution the current players adopt. That the Concert is coupled with a very satisfying performance of Chausson’s C-Minor Quartet makes this new release an easy recommendation.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins Read less
Works on This Recording
String Quartet in C minor, Op. 35: I. Grave
String Quartet in C minor, Op. 35: II. Tres calme
String Quartet in C minor, Op. 35: III. Gaiement et pas trop vite
Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D major, Op. 21: I. Decide - Calme - Anime
Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D major, Op. 21: II. Sicilienne
Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D major, Op. 21: III. Grave
Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet in D major, Op. 21: IV. Finale: Tres anime
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