Saint-Saens - Piano Quartet, Piano Quintet, Barcarolle
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Cat No: 8572904
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 25th February 2013
WorksBarcarolle in F major, op.108
Piano Quartet in B flat major, op.41
Piano Quintet in A minor, op.14
ArtistsCristina Ortiz (piano)
Fine Arts Quartet
Saint-SaŽns holds a vital place in the history of French chamber music. At a time when his compatriots were more devoted to opera and song, Saint-SaŽns (who wrote both, too) repeatedly produced chamber music of compelling individuality and lasting significance.
The 1875 Piano Quartet in B flat major, Op.41 remains one of the great works in the chamber repertory, a masterful example of the composerís organisational skill and lyric gifts. The gorgeous Barcarolle is followed by the youthful Piano Quintet in A minor, Op.14, a brilliantly confident work with a concerto-like rŰle for the piano.
1Piano Quartet in B flat, op.41 - Allegretto
2Piano Quartet in B flat, op.41 - Andante maestoso...
3Piano Quartet in B flat, op.41 - Poco allegro...
4Piano Quartet in B flat, op.41 - Allegro...
5Barcarolle in F major, op.108
6Piano Quintet in A minor, op.14 - Allegro moderato
7Piano Quintet in A minor, op.14 - Andante sostenuto
8Piano Quintet in A minor, op.14 - Presto
9Piano Quintet in A minor, op.14 - Allegro assai
A child prodigy, Saint-SaŽns was active as a composer right through the high romantic era, and was sometimes known as 'the French Mendelssohn' thanks to his engaging and apparently effortless inventiveness. He outlasted Debussy, and lived to see the ascendancy of Igor Stravinsky, an extraordinary creative span. Perhaps his most important contribution to French music was the foundation in 1871 of the Sociťtť Nationale de Musique, to promote performances of instrumental music by French composers, for which opportunities until then had been notoriously limited. Among those composers who flocked to join the Sociťtť were Faurť (a pupil and lifelong friend), Franck, Lalo and Duparc, soon resulting in a national rejuvenation of chamber music.
Saint-SaŽns's greatest contribution to the chamber music genre, the Piano Quartet in B flat, op.41, was composed in 1875, and it has since become a welcome mainstay of the piano quartet repertoire. Here it receives a marvellous, loving performance, beautifully paced and full of character whilst retaining all of its essential charm. Cristina Ortiz and her colleagues are equally at home in the mellifluously Schumannesque lyricism of the opening Allegretto and the angst-ridden severity of the enigmatic Andante. Amid the Mendelssohnian grace and lightness of the scherzo, both the Fine Arts' leader Ralph Evans and Ortiz provide fine, teasingly executed cadenzas, and in the concluding cyclic Allegro as throughout there's a pleasing warmth and depth to the tone, building to an impressive conclusion.
There follows a splendidly captivating, surprisingly full-blooded performance of the 1897 Barcarolle in F, heard here in Saint-SaŽns's revised version for piano quartet, with viola replacing the harmonium of the original.
The concluding work is the early Piano Quintet in A minor of 1855, published ten years later as Saint-SaŽns's Opus 14 with a dedication to his great aunt and first piano teacher, Charlotte Gayard-Masson. Here, Ortiz makes light work of the music's often concerto-like technical demands, and there's an ideal deftness of touch, too, in the strings' accompaniment. The second-movement Andante sostenuto is especially radiant radiance, while the following Presto fairly bristles with energy. In the finale the Fine Arts Quartet enjoy their piano-free moments in the limelight, and all in all this is a most persuasive account of a beguiling work.
With playing of immense cultivation, an ideal balance between the players, and all at budget price, this is a most tempting and welcome release from these star Naxos performers.
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