Chamber Music Society gets intimate with Ysaÿe and Fauré
The relationship between the Belgian Eugène Ysaÿe and Gabriel Fauré makes for an easy pairing. More than just contemporaries, the two inhabited the same salons of late 19th century Paris, performed together, and often confided in one another through their correspondence. As the Chamber Music Society explores a theme of intimacy throughout its season, Sunday’s concert at Alice Tully Hall included four works by Fauré and a pair by Ysaÿe that were either inspired by close acquaintances or described personal circumstances.
Among their many collaborations was the premiere of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, featuring both the composer at the keyboard and Ysaÿe on violin. This work, born from Fauré’s broken engagement to Marianne Viardot in 1877, provided the concert finale with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Nicolas Dautricourt, violist Yura Lee, and Colin Carr on cello.
The austere first movement was a little muddled, the strings overwhelmed by the piano, but the balance among instruments leveled out in the later movements. The lively scherzo filled with rapid pizzicato and twirling figures was buoyant, and the dazzling coda conveyed requisite virtuosity.
However, the heart of this performance was the haunting Adagio, remarkable for its rapturous melancholy that begins with a dirge-like motif and melts into a mournful lament. A restrained swelling of the strings at the end of the movement captured the welling of emotion just before it’s suppressed.
The performance was bookended with works influenced by Faure’s love affairs. The concert opener, the Dolly Suite, for four-hand piano, was named after the daughter of the soprano Emma Bardac, with whom he was infatuated. “When you really want to get intimate you play piano with four hands,” Wu Han quipped prior to sitting at the keyboard with McDermott for a brisk rendition of “Berceuse,” the first of the piece’s six miniatures. The pair were well matched, and provided a nuanced and sophisticate version that seemed better suited to Dolly’s mother, particularly the impressionistic third movement, “Le jardin de Dolly;” the complex thoughts and simmering passions in “Tendresse”; and the exuberant and insinuating waltz of “Le pas espagnole.”
McDermott accompanied Lee, playing the violin here, for a sufficiently dreamy account of Rêve d’enfant, Ysaÿe’s contribution to the body of music written with children in mind—specifically his son Antoine in this case. Lee sacrificed a fullness of tone for a translucent and ethereal quality to her playing.
Han and Carr collaborated on two of Faure’s shorter works: Sicilienne and Papillon. The first, taken from a theme the composer had written as incidental music for theater, is a moody waltz, which Carr played with a distant wistfulness. Han’s sensitive accompaniment was quite affecting. For the second work, which means butterfly in French, Carr provided the necessary insectile fluttering apropos of the title.
The concert hinged around Ysaÿe’s rarely performed Sonata in A minor for Two Violins, a piece only discovered in 1962. Ysaÿe wrote it to play with his pupil, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, but had to expand the work to three parts because it was too difficult for her.
Dautricourt and Lee were up to the task of performing the duet in the CMS premiere of this curious and demanding work. The pair attacked the robust opening in unison before parting into rich harmonies full of double stops, showing the remarkable color and depth from merely two violinists. A few errant squeaks were easily forgiven. The second movement, spectral and eerie, led to a virtuosic and athletic third that navigated from playful skipping harmonics to lush romantic themes.