FRANCK String Quartet. Piano Quintet
These performances by the Quatuor Danel are deftly poised on a knife’s edge between sensuousness and rigour, as the most memorable interpretations of Franck’s music so often are (cf Monteux’s Chicago recording of the D minor Symphony). Indeed, something about the opening few minutes of the String Quartet – the incisive attacks and sonorous yet sinewy tone – reminds me of the the Borodin Quartet in its 1960s line-up with Dubinsky, Alexandrov, Shebalin and Berlinsky. There’s the Danel’s careful attention to texture, too: note the way the three lower strings neatly glue their chords together so that every note is sustained for its full value, just the way Franck asked for it in marking the passage molto sostenuto.
Such textual fidelity is laudable, of course; it’s the vivid characterisations that makes these performances extraordinary. In the first movement alone, for example, there’s the sudden, pensive melancholy of the fugal passage at 6'10"; the whispered confessional at 10'01"; and the heart-rendingly tender coda at 11'40". Perhaps the Danel might have made more of the hairpin dynamic markings in the Scherzo, but their reading throws a spotlight on the music’s pregnant silences, making them even more expressive than usual.
The Piano Quintet benefits enormously from thoughtful microphone placement. The piano is more an accomplice than an instigator here – not that this shift in any way dampens the music’s dramatic impact. The threat of violence at the end of the first movement (beginning at 14'19"), for example, feels very real; the ratcheting-up of intensity at 7'12" in the Lento is positively harrowing; and there’s an immersive, claustrophobia-inducing cinéma noir quality to much of the finale.
Both of these works have been admirably served on disc. I cherish the Malibran Quartet’s ardent account of the String Quartet (Cypres, 5/13) and Gabriel Tacchino’s incendiary version of the Quintet with the Quatuor Athenaeum-Enescu (Pierre Verany, 12/92), but this new recording by the Quatuor Danel and Paavali Jumppanen is the most gripping yet – and by a long shot. Urgently recommended.