Piano Quartet in B flat, Op.41
Piano Quartet in E flat, Op.87
Fauré Quartett [Dirk Mommertz (piano), Erika Geldsetzer (violin), Sascha Frömbling (viola) & Konstantin Heidrich (cello)]
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 7 September, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Winners of the Parkhouse Award 2002, the Fauré Quartett has built up a loyal following at Wigmore Hall since first appearing there in 2004. Here, for a Sunday morning “Coffee Concert”, the Hall was full to overflowing. The Fauré Quartett is a rare beast: a genuine permanent Piano Quartet. In much the same way great string quartets collectively become more than the sum of their parts, so the Fauré Quartett – all individually superb players – effortlessly sublimates their distinctive personalities to become one cohesive unit. Like chefs who enjoy their own food there is an infectious joy to their music-making which communicates itself vividly to audiences.
Saint-Saëns’s Piano Quartet, Opus 41, is one of chamber music’s more worthwhile byways, especially when played as here with such panache and transparent commitment. A substantial work lasting well over half-an-hour, it certainly deserves to be better known; if all performances were half as good as this one it would probably be a more regular feature of the literature in much the same way as the piano quartets by Brahms, Schumann and Dvořák.
The Fauré Quartett launched the work’s gentle opening paragraph with a combination of poise and richness, even the loudest passages retained a sense of restrained power. The second movement Andante maestoso pits the piano against the string trio, the whole movement deliberately archaic in tone, whilst the sparkling third movement was delivered with exceptional dash; here Dirk Mommertz made much of the piano’s demanding writing and the group left a tad extra in reserve for the coda with its super-fast fade-out (imagine Saint-Saëns doing a wicked tongue-in-cheek parody of the finale of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet and you will be somewhere near the mark). The Allegro finale was positively orchestral in its amplitude of sound, not just loud but all-enveloping.
Confronted with Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, Brahms is reported to have said that had he known it was possible to write such a work, he would have written one himself. Had he enjoyed the good fortune to hear the Fauré Quartett, notwithstanding his own three works for the medium, Brahms might well have responded with a fourth since Dvořák’s glowing E flat Piano Quartet – perfectly balanced in all four movements and stuffed with memorable themes – is fully their equal.
Back in 2004 the Fauré Quartett gave us a revelatory reading. However, this was even better as though they have grown even further into the work and found fresh layers of subtlety. The very opening was definitely as marked, con fuoco (with fire), whilst there was a rare sweetness of tone from Erika Geldsetzer as she launched the development and the group made the most of the magical modulation towards the movement’s close. Magic is scarcely adequate to describe Konstantin Heidrich’s soaring cello line in the slow movement gently answered by the violin and viola duet’s intimate murmuring. At the close the audience’s eloquent silence spoke volumes.
In the last two movements, a gentle Czech dance marked grazioso and the exuberant finale, the group now gives the illusion of adopting slightly gentler speeds, using the additional elbow room to inflect the music, giving it a joyously unforced lilt and bounce which is quintessentially Dvořákian.