Pierné’s music is unmistakably French – so much so that one could easily believe it to be unmistakably Massenet, under whom he studied. His other teacher was César Franck, whom he succeeded as organist of Paris’s Sainte-Clotilde, eventually following Édouard Colonne as director of the Colonne orchestra. He composed right across the spectrum, and his ballet Cydalise et le Chèvre-pied, is a glorious adventure in French orchestral music, containing his greatest ‘hit’, The Entry of the Little Fauns.
Dedicated to Fauré, the beautiful Piano Quintet was written in 1919. It begins ruminatively, gathering strength as it goes, the strenuous nature of the music leading into a vigorous middle section before closing with a quieter ending. The beguiling second movement, in the rhythm of a Zorzico, a Basque folk dance complete with five beats to the bar, is graceful and makes a good contrast to the first movement. It drifts amiably into a charming development section, leading away from the strictness of the Zorzico.
“Fine performances of both works provide a refreshing change from the standard classics”
Picking up from the dance, the last movement brings us to a rattlingly good agitato. Here we can hear Debussy coming through the mists. Eventful piano arpeggios cascade playfully as an engaging main theme leads us into the body of the movement.
Almost an exact contemporary of Pierné, the long-suffering Louis Vierne (he was near blind and suffered great personal losses) made a career as a leading organist, taking the post at Notre Dame in Paris at the age of 29. However, he was not restricted to the organ as this lovely quartet shows us. The nimble first movement, with its almost dance-like tempo gets our attention from the start. In similar style, the light hearted intermezzo, possibly the most engaging section of the work, bubbles along with equal ease.
The slow movement is thoughtful, providing some repose before the busy final movement. Earnest, is the word I would use to describe this final movement, balanced by energetic, faster passages. Written when the composer was 24, it is a young man’s work. Occasionally, the music sounds as if it is trying to burst out of its format and into a more orchestral landscape – in fact this occurs in the more frantic passages in both works.
The excellent Goldner String Quartet led by Dene Olding and accompanied in the Pierné by London-based Australian pianist Piers Lane, turn in fine performances of both works, providing a refreshing change from the standard classics. The first rate recording was made in the UK in 2013.