Prague String Quartet

César Franck: Sonate pour violon & piano; Quatuor à cordes

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Marvelously bracing and wholly unidiomatic, this pair of performances by the Russian duo of violinist Gidon Kremer and pianist Oleg Maisenberg and by the Czech Prague Quartet of the Violin Sonata and the String Quartet of César Franck sounds nothing at all like César Franck. And that's not a bad thing. So many French performances of Franck's music miss by stressing their passionate sensuality at the expense of their musical cogency and so many non-French performances miss by stressing their musical cogency at the expense of their passionate sensuality. But the performers here have found a better way than either the French or the non-French: they simply play Franck's music as great, late-Romantic music, as deeply passionate and profoundly cogent music written in the pan-European language of decadent chromaticism. Both Kremer and Maisenberg and the Prague Quartet have re-imagined Franck's Sonata and Quartet as essentially the music of the love duet and the love death from Tristan without the vocals. Kremer and Maisenberg throw themselves into Franck's Violin Sonata, shining, shimmering, soaring, swelling, and expiring in waves of ecstasy. The Prague Quartet throws itself onto Franck's String Quartet with the unreserved ardor of a bridegroom entering his bower of bliss and the music meets them with soft sighs, tender caresses, and warm and passionate intimacy. Praga's early digital sound is still clear and present and real, if a bit dim.

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