The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Fine Arts Quartet, Cristina Ortiz (piano)
Composer: Franck

Considering the popularity of the Violin Sonata it is surprising how rarely Franck’s other major chamber works are encountered both in the concert hall and on disc. The answer lies with his twin musical gods, Beethoven and Wagner. Franck continually strove in his music to counterbalance the Classical discipline of the former and the latter’s expressive freedom, and while it is the latter that is given free rein in the Sonata, in both the Quartet and Quintet Franck tends towards motivic compression rather than exultant lyrical lines, combined with a temporal expansiveness that clearly takes its lead from Beethoven’s middle period..

In the Quartet the Fine Arts players strike a near-ideal balance between Romantic espressivo and Classical restraint. The bustling scherzo’s post-‘Rasumovsky’ gesturing is dispatched with a feather-light touch, while the finale’s thematic déjà vu is integrated into the music’s overall structure with compelling inevitability. Franck’s chromatic harmonic profiles have caused intonational havoc with some ensembles in the past, but the Fine Arts musicians sustain a remarkable degree of corporate tonal accuracy in both works. In the Quintet they are joined by the gifted Brazilian virtuoso Cristina Ortiz to stunning effect. In a work notorious for being over-burdened with strenuous passion, this team work wonders in clarifying Franck’s occasionally overheated textures, enhanced by engineering of exemplary lucidity and presence.