Classical: Faure, the retiring revelator

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FAUR: Piano Quartet No 1; Piano Quintet No 1

Pascal Roge, Quatuor Ysae

(Decca 455 149-2)

Out of the midst of iridescent piano figurations - like Excalibur rising from the enchanted lake - a song emerges. And where it goes, you will surely follow. The opening of Faure's First Piano Quintet is so intriguing, so inspiring that you cannot but do so. You wonder where this beautiful and extraordinary music has been all your life.

With the exception of the Requiem and a handful of other works - among them the A major Violin Sonata and the First Piano Quartet, which shares this disc - Faure's music doesn't get heard. Why, why, why? It's partly a question of personality - the retiring, unprepossessing manner which would seem to harbour, even conceal, such untold passion. This is music you must meet more than halfway, music whose quiet dignity belies an exotic nature.

Rich and discursive developments symbolise the quest for loftier ideals. Modest themes undergo elaborate harmonic transformations - liberated, ennobled, barely recognisable from their humble beginnings. The further you go with Faure, the more mysterious he becomes.

In the sublime slow movement of the Quintet, his benevolence (never more consoling than in the opening bars) is tempered with increasing disquiet. Benign this music is not. That, I think, is one of the great Faure myths.

The Quatuor Ysaye have invested in more than just the name of the Quintet's dedicatee, the great Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye: they've tapped into his inspiration, and so has Pascal Roge. There is a fervour about these performances which has nothing to do with display; an ease, too, which has nothing to do with casualness. Each player is so aware of his place within the scheme of the piece that technical matters like balance cease to be an issue. The orchestral amplitude of the playing again belies Faure's reputation as a miniaturist.

One parting detail, one tiny miracle: no matter how many times you hear it, the inversion and transformation of the first theme in the Piano Quartet, just prior to the development, will still come as revelation, a moment to warm the heart and lift the spirit. I think that's what great music is all about, isn't it?

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