FRANCK: Piano Quintet / CHAUSSON: String Quartet (Ludwig Quartet/ Michael Levinas) (Naxos: 8.553645)
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César Franck was born in Liege in 1822, and as such was a Belgium composer, though he is generally included in the French school of music, and he did spend much of his life there, dying in Paris in 1890. He was not only noted as a composer, but was an influential teacher, becoming composition Professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1872. He was also a distinguished organist, being appointed to the famous Ste. Clothilde church in Paris.
As a composer he was adept in every possible mode of writing, from opera to chamber music, his symphony becoming one of the most frequently performed French compositions from the 19th century. Yet for all his personal success, it was to be the influence on French music in general that was his major role, and through his pupil, Vincent d'Indy, it was to guide French compositions well into the 20th century.
One of the next generation that Franck taught was Ernest Chausson, born in Paris in 1855. At first he studied law, and for a number of years practised as a lawyer. But in 1879 his life took a complete change and he enroled at the Paris Conservatoire. Sadly he was killed in a road accident at the age of 44, so his compositional career lasted little longer than 15 years. In that time he wrote a number of works that have entered the repertoire, his symphony and the popular Po?¿me being among his restricted catalogue of works.
Franck's Piano Quintet was given its first performance in 1880, with no less than Saint-Sa?½ns as the pianist. It is in three movements, the first an expansive and spacious Molto moderato, that reflects a certain severity typical of much of Franck's output. The following Lento owes something to Schumann, and its song-like quality is a perfect foil to the opening movement. And finally we have an Allegro non troppo of gravity, yet full of passion, and ending with an energetic passage.
Chausson did not live long enough to finish his String Quartet. The first movement, though in no way derivative, mirrors the gravity of Franck's music, and was completed in 1898 and given a private performance to great success. Four months later, in the Spring of 1899, the second movement was completed, and a fast and brilliant finale was nearing completion at the time of his accident. d'Indy was left with the simple task of completing the final bars and editing the rough manuscript that Chausson left. Though undoubtably one of his most beautiful works, it never quite captured public imagination and is now seldom performed.
Quatuor Ludwig was formed in 1985 by four students at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris. They have received tuition as a quartet by some of the most famous chamber ensembles, including the Berg, LaSalle and Amadeus quartets. In 1988 they became the quartet in residence at Yale University in America, and returned to take the same position at the Conservatoire where they had been educated in 1991. They have been successful in many major competitions, and now have a busy touring career which has taken them throughout Europe, North America and the Far East. They have previously recorded the Brahms String Quartets for Naxos.
Micha?½l Levinas was born in Paris in 1949, and has a long list of some of the finest pianists in Europe has his mentors. They include Vlado Perlemuter, Yvonne Loriod, Olivier Messiaen and Marguerite Long. He won seven Premiers Prix at the Paris Conservatoire, before taking first prize in the Concours International in Lyon. Since then he has had a very active concert career and has made numerous recordings.
Was made in the Alen?ºon Auditorium, France, during April 1996.
It is the natural coupling, yet there is only one other version, and this is at full price. The disc therefore makes an important addition to the catalogue.