Quatuor Danel’s Fine Franck CD

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FRANCK: String Quartet in D. Piano Quintet in F min. / Quatuor Danel; Paavali Jumppanen, pn / CPO 555 088-2

With so many modern-day chamber groups pursuing a generic sort of sound, regardless of repertoire and style, it was refreshing for me to listen to these stylish and well-modulated performances by Quatuor Danel, whose recordings of Weinberg’s complete string quartets on CPO I gave a good review to some years ago in Fanfare.

As is usual with Franck, the music is romantic but has a number of interesting features in it, particularly his use of fluid harmonic changes. I emphasize the word “fluid” here because the quartet’s playing is certainly that; they keep the music moving forward without resorting to the sort of all-purpose “cereal shot from guns” approach of many of their peers. They pay great attention to legato phrasing and dynamics, with little touches of portamento here and there to keep the performance somewhat authentic. They also play with a lot of heart, which keeps the music from sounding routine or uninteresting despite its lyrical, Romantic proclivities.

It rather surprised me to learn that these recordings were made five years ago, but are only now being issued on CD. It’s as good a reflection as any of the sad state of affairs in the classical music business nowadays, and I’m sure they aren’t the only ones who keep plugging away, hoping that sooner or later someone will issue their performances. They’re lucky that CPO took an interest in them in the first place.

I also very much liked the way Franck kept the inner voices moving in his quartet. Like many modern works, he seemed to like having the harmonic movement direct the melodic line rather than the other way round. Quatuor Danel also injects a bit of the no-nonsense French style into these performances, meaning that they keep the music moving forward despite moments of rubato. They understand pacing and shaping, and know how to make the most of their material. I particularly liked their quicksilver yet somewhat mysterious way of playing the scherzo, with muted violins scampering around while the viola and cello play counterfigures against them. The last movement is also very strange in its own way, alternating between muted, quiet passages and frantic ones with strong string tremolos.

If anything, the Piano Quintet is even more dramatic than the string quartet, possibly because of the addition of the keyboard. Here, Franck assigns one line of music to the pianist, a different line to the quartet, this time playing as a unit around the soloist in the manner of a concerto. Indeed, it is possibly this concerto-like feel that prompted him to write it this way. There’s a wonderful passage in the first movement where rising chromatics give a sense of urgency and momentum to the music, despite the fact that several bars in it are played quietly. Happily, Quatuor Danel adjusts to this different sound-world brilliantly, and although I think that pianist Jumppanen sometimes lacks a little of their drama, he acquits himself very well. This almost sounds like French Beethoven (or Brahms at his most dramatic). Even the middle section of the slow movement is dramatic and intense, and the finale does not disappoint.

This is an outstanding CD in every way, a very pleasant surprise!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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