FRANCK String Quartet CHAUSSON Chanson perpétuelle
The Quatuor Zaïde, who caused a bit of a stir last year with their recording of Haydn’s Op 50 Quartets (3/16), now turn their attention to Franck’s D major Quartet, his only work in the form. Premiered in 1890, months before his death, it was one of only a handful of his works to achieve public and critical success in his lifetime. Posterity, however, has tended to prefer the greater volatility of Franck’s Piano Quintet to the Quartet’s more considered exploration of emotion and form: written in conscious awareness of the traditions it seeks to redefine, this is music that can seem studied if not carefully handled.
The Zaïdes, however, play it with palpable commitment and an understated sense of drama that make it very immediate. The first movement’s conflicts between assertion and reflection are finely judged, and there’s real sense of malign magic in the Scherzo as its gestures in the direction of Mendelssohn’s fairy music and Berlioz’s Queen Mab are threatened by jolts and pauses. The Larghetto is all chromatic unease and the finale, indebted to Beethoven, bristles with tension without losing sight of Franck’s complex counterpoint. Some might prefer the lucid beauty of the Fine Arts Quartet or the greater weight of the Dante Quartet here but this is a fine and consistently engaging interpretation nevertheless.
The coupling is unusual. Where the Fine Arts opt for the Piano Quintet (with Cristina Ortiz, a superb performance) and the Dantes offer us Fauré’s String Quartet, the Zaïdes are joined by Karine Deshayes and Jonas Vitaud for Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle for mezzo and piano quintet. This is Deshayes’s second recording of the work, and the nuanced restraint and elegance of her earlier version, with the Ensemble Contraste for Aparté, is perhaps preferable to her more overtly intense interpretation here. It’s beautifully played, though, and the disc as a whole admirably consolidates the Zaïdes’ growing reputation.