Piano Quintets - Franck, Fauré No 1. Mami Shikimori, Wihan Quartet. © 2020 Wyastone Estate Ltd

CD Spotlight

Quietly Ambiguous

STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA feels vaguely let down by Mami Shikimori and the Wihan Quartet's performances of Fauré and Franck

'... wonderfully committed and incisive playing.'


The two scores complement each other well; the performances are musical, well organized, and expressive; yet I felt vaguely let down.

The opening of the Franck quintet, with its taut, concentrated strings and mellow, Mendelssohnian piano, seems oddly conventional: no hint of what one of my professors, uncharitably but accurately, dubbed the 'modulating machine'. The music comes to life as turbulent piano writing and tumbles into the main Allegro, bringing a nice forward momentum and interplay of parts.

Listen — Franck: Molto moderato quasi lento - Allegro (Piano Quintet in F minor)
(track 1, 3:06-3:46) © 2020 Wyastone Estate Ltd :

The development's tumultuous climaxes still sound reined-in, but the players effectively use agogics and a ritard to set up the recapitulation. Some wistful choralelike episodes inflect the rather long coda.

The solo violin that launches the Lento con molto sentimento is bittersweet, not so sentimental, and, as the other strings join in, the chords are vibrant.

Listen — Franck: Lento con molto sentimento (Piano Quintet in F minor)
(track 2, 0:01-0:58) © 2020 Wyastone Estate Ltd :

The music turns busier and more anxious, then more deeply lyrical. The finale, like the first movement, goes on too long after the music seems to signal a conclusion, which might annoy the listener - it annoyed this one - for all the wonderfully committed and incisive playing.

The Fauré, like the Franck, takes time to warm up. Here, the piano sparkles at the start, but the mood is again restrained. It's hard to hear what I call the composer's 'endless counterpoint' in some of the sustained chords - though the second subject is fervent - and the slight touches of rubato feel labored.

Listen — Fauré: Molto moderato (Piano Quintet No 1 in D minor)
(track 4, 1:30-2:24) © 2020 Wyastone Estate Ltd :

At higher intensities, the expression becomes more characteristic, with even the development's move into the major turning quietly ambiguous. The Adagio's flowing, lyrical theme, while unstable, suggests repose, growing more yearning as it expands; the graceful Allegretto moderato finale - talk about a noncommittal tempo marking! - is a courtly duple.

Listen — Fauré: Allegretto moderato (Piano Quintet No 1 in D minor)
(track 6, 0:01-0:55) © 2020 Wyastone Estate Ltd :

The reproduction is mostly quite good; a generous ambience is noticeable after louder cadential chords. The quieter piano passages sound tonally neutral, but it's hard to tell whether pianist Mami Shikimori or the engineers might be responsible.

For what it's worth, the Mozart Piano Quartet and violinist Sachiko Segawa offer a more immediate, dynamic performance of Fauré's Op 89 in their recent coupling of the composer's two quintets (on MDG Gold).

Copyright © 15 November 2020 Stephen Francis Vasta,
New York, USA








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