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Chamber Music (Eugene Ysaye Ensemble)

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Product details

1. Molto adagio sempre cantante doloroso
2. Andante più tosto adagio
3. Médiration: Adagio molto religioso cantante tranquillo
4. Piano Quartet (unfinished) Dans un emportement douloureuy (très animé)
5. Piano Quartet (unfinished) Lent et passionné

Product Description

Molto adagio sempre cantante doloroso - Andante più tosto adagio - Méditation (Adagio molto religioso cantante tranquillo) - Quatuor pour piano / Ensemble Eugène Ysaÿe

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Amazon.com: 1 review
Profound and Intense Works - An Amalgam of Wagner, Franck, and Late Beethoven 17 April 2015
By Hexameron - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Poor Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) is still not a household name and yet D'Indy called him a genius, Debussy said he was the most important composer of the Belgian school, and Franck praised his talent at every step. Lekeu gets little attention because he died at 24 and left behind mostly unpublished and unfinished works. He was a late bloomer who found inspiration chiefly from Beethoven, Wagner, and Franck. In the course of seven years, he managed to produce over 50 compositions before dying from typhoid. But what compositions he left. His Violin Sonata is standard repertoire for violinists, the Piano Trio is a supreme masterpiece of the genre, and his Piano Sonata is one I value more than D'Indy's and Dukas's.

Enter this release from Brilliant Classics, featuring two of Lekeu's lesser-known works for string quartet, the Andante piu tosto adagio for violin and piano, and the mighty unfinished Piano Quartet. I believe this is a reissue of the 1996 recording on the Rene Gailly label. Each piece has been recorded elsewhere, namely on MDG and Harmonia Mundi, but much of the Lekeu discography is out-of-print these days, so this new reissue is very welcome.

The two works for string quartet are both unpublished and may not rank with Lekeu's Piano Trio or Violin Sonata, but they are not far behind in quality. Both are a testament to Lekeu's aesthetic aspirations toward an elevated profundity in the manner of late Beethoven. The emotional intensity of the Molto Adagio (1887) with its plaintive mood and broad melodic material does draw comparison with some of Beethoven's late string quartets, although the chromatic language is much more aligned with Franck. Meditation (1887) for string quartet is of a similar stripe. Less somber, it achieves the emotional state evinced by its title: intense tranquility and lyricism. The Andante piu tosto adagio (1888) for violin and piano is one of Lekeu's underrated hidden gems. Dramatic and passionate, the composer unfurls some powerful piano writing and an agonized violin part. It amazes me that this is the product of an 18-year-old.

Lekeu's Piano Quartet (1893) was his last composition and remained unfinished at two movements, but like Schubert's Eighth, it doesn't suffer from that fact. While not at the level of perfection of his Piano Trio and Piano Sonata, the quartet is substantial in its own right. Cyclical, tonally advanced, and ambitious in its survey of emotions, this is an impressive accomplishment for a 23-year-old. However, owing to its unfinished state, Lekeu's ideas are rough around the edges and the overarching structure borders on the incoherent. The first movement "Dans un emportement" roughly translated as "in a fury" is indeed fiery and vehement. In this 14-minute movement, Lekeu explores a range of moods from anger, grief, doubt, love, and hope; "a poem from the heart where a million sentiments collide" as he says. The second movement, completed by D'Indy, is more subdued, but still has moments of arresting beauty.

As performances go, the Eugene Ysaye Ensemble is stellar. I appreciate that they play the Piano Quartet at a faster pace and with a sense of emotional urgency, whereas the Spiller Trio clocks in an extra 4 minutes of playing time. Both ensembles are excellent and I can't recommend one performance over the other.

Bottom line: Classical audiences and record labels are still catching up to the idea that Lekeu, like Alkan, was a forgotten genius who deserves more attention. The two works for string quartet are passionate and moving works indebted to Franck and late Beethoven. The intense Andante for violin and piano is even more powerful. I think for beginners to Lekeu's music, the better recording is the Arts Music disc with the Spiller Trio; you get the Piano Quartet and the Piano Trio, the latter being, I think, one of the greatest piano trios ever written. If you have that already, this Brilliant Classics release is a fine second choice.
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