VIERNE Spleens et Détresses. Piano Quintet
Vierne endured an unfairly troublous life: he was born nearly blind; both his wife and subsequent partner left him; he underwent painful operations, first to one of his legs, then (for four years) to his eyes; he nearly died from typhoid; was passed over for prestigious appointments; and lost two of his three children, one of them killed during the First World War along with his beloved brother René, who was vaporised by a direct hit from a shell.
Unsurprisingly, one does not turn to Vierne for light-hearted Gallic banter, though his organ music, the genre with which he is most readily identified, rarely reflects his private suffering, unlike his chamber music. While it does this without ever descending into self-pity, almost the whole of the Brilliant Classics disc is informed by grief and desolation. The 10 songs of his Op 38 Spleens et détresses, written in 1917, are settings of poems by Verlaine. In making this selection, David Moncur’s booklet-note tells us, Vierne recalled ‘a wordless encounter with the poet which had taken place 20 years before in the organ loft of Saint-Sulpice when Verlaine “fixed [him] with a look in which could be read absolute despair”’. Mezzo Anaïk Morel invests Vierne’s settings with colour and passion (and, in ‘Sapho’, something approaching ecstasy), aided by the Lithuanian pianist Mūza Rubackytė’s characterful accompaniment. It’s a recording much to be preferred to this writer’s one previous encounter with the cycle some years ago on the Deux-Elles label featuring the monochrome soprano of Rachel Santesso and poor Roger Vignoles sentenced to play in what sounds like an empty swimming pool some distance away.
Into the Piano Quintet, composed in the same year, Vierne poured his anguish at the loss of his eldest son Jacques, killed in action at the age of 17. Personal torment produced, in purely musical terms, a masterpiece of the genre, ‘one of the most remarkable works,’ argues Moncur, ‘to be created in response to the slaughter of the First World War’. It is closely modelled on Franck’s Quintet, written in cyclical form. All three movements are powerfully intense and emotional. Rubackyte˙ and the Terpsycordes Quartet respond with vigour and sensitivity in a recording that matches other fine accounts (first among them Stephen Coombs and the Chilingirian Quartet on Hyperion). I marginally prefer theirs to the other new recording of the quintet on Accentus, where the first movement is less fiercely argued and the recorded sound does not have the same rewarding depth. However, Accentus’s coupling is Vierne’s earlier (1905 06) Violin Sonata – a commission, like the sonatas by Franck and Lekeu, from the great Eugène Ysaÿe. The experienced duo of Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel play this with commanding authority, so your choice between the two discs can justifiably be made purely on personal repertoire preference.