Piano Quintet in F minor, M. 7
String Quartet, L. 85 (Op. 10)
The Takács Quartet have the mainstream Austro-Germanic repertory as their sweet spot, but they excel in this French program that contains a highly personal example of the late Romantic style and the first stirrings of modernism. The "Piano Quintet in F minor, M7," of César Franck, is right up the Takács' alley, for it depends on coordination of a large-scale harmonic structure. That structure is deployed in the service of passionate and even erotic ends, with the outer movements depicting a kind of disorientation that audiences at the time (including the dedicatee, pianist Camille Saint-Saëns, who stalked off the stage at the end of the piece) correctly read as hinting at an extramarital affair. The Takács capture the wondrous instability of this work, which is unlike anything else in the chamber repertory, and pianist Marc-André Hamelin, who can be virtuosic without fireworks, provides a perfect foil, seeming almost to graze the keys to make them sound. The early "String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10," of Debussy, in which the composer flirts with deserting traditional structure, but then feels compelled to touch base with it (sample the first few minutes of the first movement), is not quite as successful, but there are many points that display the Takács' sheer ensemble magnificence, such as the clockwork-like pizzicato passages in the second movement, possibly influenced by the Javanese gamelan music Debussy heard at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889. The fine Wyastone Estate Concert Hall sound caps off a superb French chamber music release.