Released in 2009, this recording has already received recognition as a classic. Scott Morrison's early and beautifully perceptive review here on Amazon was one of the first to recognize the special character of this disk. With the passage of a short time, the 2011 Gramophone Classical Music Guide described the CD as a "recording of legendary status, simply the best: an unrivaled cornerstone of the catalogue. A real gem!" This is high praise indeed as there are several other fine recordings of Faure's quintets available.
Faure (1845 -- 1924) composed his two piano quintets late in life. He worked on the Quintet No. 1 in d minor, op. 89, for many years before he finally completed it in 1906. The work was dedicated to the famous violinist Eugene Ysaye whose quartet performed the premiere. Faure composed the Quintet No. 2 in c minor op. 115 in 1919-1921. These quintets, both products of the 20th Century, are elusively romantic. The emotional range moves from melancholy to hard-won hope. As with other Faure chamber music, the piano quintets demand repeated hearings to appreciate. The surface of the works is lyrical and accessible but the music is subtle. The part writing is close and intricate, harmonies and rhythms change repeatedly, and passages of solo playing alternate with ensemble sections and counterpoint. The music flows seamlessly through its many changes of direction. Keith Anderson's liner notes offer good movement-by-movement descriptions of each work. These descriptions do not adequately capture what the listener hears in terms of their internal flow and unity.
The three-movement d minor quintet has a long slow movement as its heart which begins quietly in individual voices and works to a large climax before fading away. The two outer movements follow a similar pattern beginning gracefully and moving imperceptibly through related themes to intensify the music and then end softly and recessively. The opening movement, "molto moderato" seems to my listening a variation throughout on similar musical material. The finale, also a moderatly paced movement, works from a melancholy theme to a short triumphal conclusion in the major key. This is a bittersweet work.
The four movement c minor quintet is even more closely-wrought and introspective than its companion. This quintet too has a lengthy, highly developed slow movement for its third movement as its climax which follows a quick almost Mendellsonian scherzo. There are many intricate themes developed and varied in the opening movement, including an austure fugual passage in the middle. The concluding movement begins with the melancholy feel that characterizes the work as a whole before reaching a large full-voiced conclusion in the major key.
The Fine Arts Quartet playes this music with feeling and romanticism. The Brazilian pianist Cristina Ortiz plays with both delicacy, especially in the arpeggio passages which open both quintets, and power. The ensemble work is critical to this music and the five performers fuse their parts together. The Fine Arts Quartet is a venerable group with a history of more than 50 years. The current group which itself has a long history of playing together consists of Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violins, Yuri Gandelsman, viola, and Wolfgang Laufer, cello.
There are two other Fine Arts Quartet recordings of late 19th -- early 20th Century chamber music that compliment this CD. The first of these CDs includes the piano quintet, with Ortiz, and string quartet of Ceasar Frank. Franck: String Quartet; Piano Quintet These works are much more overtly dramatic and passionate than Faure's subtly elegant compositions. The second companion CD includes to the two rarely-performed string quartets of Saint-Saens, Faure's teacher and mentor. String Quartets The Saint-Saens quartets show a composer of surprising depth. They reveal that Faure and Saint-Saens came to learn from and influence each other throughout their lives.
These three recordings, Franck, Faure, and Saint-Saens, offer a trilogy of French chamber music. The Faure quintets form the center. The CD was recorded in December, 2007 at the Purchase College Theater, New York.