Tuesday, September 14, 2010

faure | piano quartets

might as well get it out of the way and mention that this release got several assloads of acclaim when it dropped back in 86: praise was lavished, rosettes were pinned, prestigious awards were won, etc. so you know — it's kind of a big deal.

but unlike lots of other big deals, this one's a big deal not because the performers give butt-quakingly passionate and technically virtuosic readings of compositions that one might reasonably put forward as references for their genre. it's a big deal because, um...

or... no, i'm sorry — that's precisely why it's a big deal. my mistake.

okay, so, starting over. here we have gabriel faure's two piano quartets. what keeps drawing me into these pieces is their continuity — though you might even say relentlessness — of melodic statement. tight-knit is one way of putting it. unremittingly inventive would be another. like some nut-job called out during a sneak preview performance of brahms's fourth symphony, one might get the feeling during these quartets of being beaten by an incredibly intelligent person. in the case of faure, it's all the more remarkable feeling like you've got to throw up your hands in surrender, since the deluge of sounds teeming down on your head are just inconceivably delicious.

meanwhile, i wouldn't want to give the impression that these quartets can't be listened to without maximal mental exertion. just saying, i once made the mistake of putting this album on when i was already completely exhausted, thinking i was in for a deeply relaxing experience, only to find my feeble intellect in a condition similar to a skater who's broken through the ice on a fast-moving river, swept under and away in the current. i know it seems like cuddly music, but i implore you, take caution!

to say something of domus and susan tomes, they deserve every bit of praise they've gotten for this recording. trying to imagine the concentration it must take to work through these pieces with such loving attention to detail just baffles me. i'd almost feel bad for them if they didn't do it with such an appreciable sense of adventure.

sibelius | string quartets

the string quartet in E major is very early work, very old-fashioned, and — as you'd expect during this period of the composer's artistic maturation — pretty jejune. still, it contains a number of moments when the counterpoint points to the sort of breathless, rhythmically mind-spinning style sibelius would develop in his symphonic works... mostly during the allegro 1st movement. then, 4 years later (1889) we get the A minor quartet, which shows sibelius moving out of the mid-18th century and into the... late 18th century. here, sibelius studies the romantic forms he would later manipulate to such marvelous effect. it made an impression on busoni, apparently: "we realized that we were in the presence of something far beyond the ordinary pupil".

it's on the second disc, in the B flat quartet (written only a year after the A minor), that sibelius advances well into the... early 19th century. and more into his own, to be fair. the third movement presto is actually quite lovely, bearing some of sibelius's genius for cultivating wild euphoria out of seemingly banal sentimental tensions.

the D minor quartet, written another 20 years later between the (by now internationally famous) composer's 3rd and 4th symphonies, seems to fall from the sky onto this collection — so little it bears in common with its disc-mates; as in, there's not much chance of mistaking whose hand was at work this time. the haunting, stark lines form with confidence out of what's become sibelius's hallmark post-romantic conception, casting their enchantment at fucking 30 degrees below zero. (i think fans of morton feldman who've up to now found it hard to detect in his music any overt strain of sibelius will probably be struck by the harmonic/temporal character of the adagio di molto). it's really a goddamn shame sibelius didn't write more chamber works during his mature period, as he'd intended to; this one's quickly working its way into my innermost circle of cherished quartets. the way the lines can be so articulate and yet so massively gestural at the same time — who doesn't love that? isn't it the very essence of how we want to be (mis)understood?