Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Fauré Quartet offers a very attractive pairing of Brahms' Op. 25 & Op. 60 piano quartets. The Op. 25 (Piano Quartet No. 1) sounds so fully fleshed-out that you wonder why Schoenberg felt obliged to arrange it for orchestra. His complaint was that the piano played too loudly for him to hear the string instruments--not so in this performance. All instruments sound with clarity and detail, even with the pianist's assertive and emotive playing. (The recording's spacious acoustic and expertly judged balances may have much to do with this.) The Fauré's performance emphasizes the music's rich lyricism (particularly in the slow movement) but also its lively rhythms--most prominently in
the wildly dancing finale, here done with impeccable style and engaging fervor.
Though Piano Quartet No. 3 is a much later work, it contains just as much fire and youthful vigor as Op. 25, qualities successfully reflected in the Fauré's performance. Again, the rich Brahmsian timbre and heartfelt playing seduce, especially in the Andante, with its beguiling solo cello theme. The wide-ranging recording effectively captures the explosive dynamic contrasts in the first movement, while the Fauré's impassioned artistry enlivens the spiky scherzo and pensive finale. This is as fine an album of Brahms' piano quartets as you could want (even without Brahms' rather sober Op. 26). Highly recommended!
--Victor Carr Jr., ClassicsToday.com
Piano Quartets: No. 1 in g; No. 3 in c
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 476 6323 (72:37)
Despite its name, the Fauré Quartet is not a French ensemble, but a German one formed in 1995, the 150th anniversary of Gabriel Fauré’s birth. The group is one of only a handful of standing piano quartets, not surprising considering the relatively small repertoire for this combination, at least compared with that of a string quartet or a piano trio. The Fauré Quartet has already recorded some of the best-known music in the genre, including the two piano quartets by its namesake, the Dvo?ák Quartet in E?, and, for DG, the Schumann Quartet and two of Mozart’s (see
31:1); a new CD of two of Mendelssohn’s early quartets has just been released in Europe.
The recordings on the present disc are not new; this CD was first issued in 2007, but not distributed in the U.S. For a time it appeared to be completely unavailable; now, three years later, it is being distributed here for the first time. If this seems curious to you, join the club.
In any event, it was worth the wait. These are top-flight performances, easily surpassing any of the five other versions I have reviewed here over the past three years. Brahms’s First and Third Piano Quartets are very different works, as I have discussed previously; they often appear together on CD more as an expedient than for any intrinsic musical reason, since the Second Quartet in A Major is of such length that it usually precludes any such pairing. Fortunately, the Fauré does not take a common approach to the two pieces; its G-Minor is big-boned and exuberant, its C-Minor reserved, even severe.
The first two features that strike the ear at the opening of the G-Minor Quartet are the balanced, transparent sound provided by DG’s engineers, and the rock-solid rhythmic sense that makes the chosen tempos seem almost inevitably right; in its first two movements, this is a fairly quick performance—fleet in the case of the second, with its particularly lovely string playing, although this adjective is hardly applicable to the massive first movement. Only occasionally in this movement does one wish for a bit more flexibility in tempo. The concluding
Rondo alla Zingarese
is perhaps a notch below the specified
, but the Fauré’s big sound and spirited reading carry the day.
I have discussed the character of the C-Minor Trio at some length in previous reviews, particularly in 32:2; as deadly-serious as Brahms’s other works in this key, like the First Symphony and the Third Piano Trio, it receives here a performance of great gravitas. The first-movement tempo is unremittingly maintained, unlike many performances that speed up abruptly at m. 31. The disconcerting Scherzo is almost spooky, with its
string playing and offbeat accents. After the tender E-Major song that is the Andante, the Finale again has a spectral quality, its last pages leading up to the two final C-Major chords giving a calm-before-the-storm feeling. This is playing of great, uncompromising integrity.
These are the first new recordings of these works to pose a serious challenge to my reference versions, by Tamás Vásáry and three principal string players of the Berlin Philharmonic, also on DG (in the complete Brahms Edition, and also available as a two-disc ArkivCD set). Vásáry and his colleagues are more urgent in the opening movement of the G Minor, but the Fauré strings play more beautifully. In the C Minor, the Vásáry performance is more one of extremes—the Andante lingering more on the exquisite cello tune, the Finale being more of a headlong plunge. If and when the Faurés record the A-Major Quartet, theirs could well stand alongside the Vásáry recordings as the most compelling versions of these works on disc. Meanwhile, given the fickle fortunes of this CD already, devotees of Brahms’s chamber music shouldn’t wait for the A Major; buy this one now!
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
Works on This Recording
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 1 in G minor, Op. 25 by Johannes Brahms
Fauré Piano Quartet
Written: 1855-1861; Germany
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 3 in C minor, Op. 60 by Johannes Brahms
Fauré Piano Quartet
Written: 1855-1875; Austria
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25: 1. Allegro
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25: 2. Intermezzo (Allegro ma non troppo)
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25: 3. Andante con moto
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25: 4. Rondo alla Zingarese
Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor, Op.60: 1. Allegro ma non troppo
Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor, Op.60: 2. Scherzo (Allegro)
Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor, Op.60: 3. Andante
Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor, Op.60: 4. Finale (Allegro)
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