This pair of performances won a Gramophone award a few years back. I also feel considerable enthusiasm for it, whether for the same reasons as the Gramophone judges I now can't remember.
Despite that award, this disc is attracting surprisingly little comment nowadays. The quartets seem absolutely marvellous music to me, but one of the practical barriers to a wider audience for them is probably that Faure's music is a frustrating combination of technically difficult and not at all showy. He was one of the most subtle and original harmonists there has ever been (the second quartet being very notable in this respect), and certainly as far as the piano writing is concerned he keeps taking one's fingers where they are not expecting to go. These accounts are outstanding for their naturalness and spontaneity. They probably make the music sound a lot easier than it actually is, and that is no doubt the nub of the matter because any sense of effort or struggle would kill music like this. It is all very 'professional' in its way, but by today's standards not especially refined. The pianist in particular, while very accurate, is - what am I trying to say? - no Michelangeli. I have only one life, and this record has enhanced it. I can imagine smoother, but whether that would be better in any sense I could recognise I simply do not know, and I simply do not care.
A certain amount of dutiful comment sometimes attends the first quartet relating it to the composer's failed engagement. All this, in my personal view, is best ignored. Faure's emotions were doubtless as strong as Wagner's for all I know. The real point in that comparison is that they represent, musically, opposite poles. Wagner thought, not unreasonably, that he was riding the tide of history in his commitment to music that was not 'absolute' in the sense that Bach's music was that, but which bound itself to an underlying poetic or dramatic idea. He had every reason to believe this - other than Chopin no composer that I can think of since Bach's time was an undiluted 'absolute' musician. Then there was, abruptly, Brahms. Anything but unemotional, anything but indifferent to women, Brahms simply revived a tradition that had not died and only slept. Whatever their personal emotions, Brahms and Faure express music purely, as Bach had done - they do not use music to express something else. Listen to this wonderful music just for itself.