I’ve been asked to research and present another programme for Radio 3’s CD Review – the part called Building a Library, where the reviewer considers all the available recordings of a piece, guides you through them and makes a recommendation. Last year I looked at Messiaen’s La Nativité, and this time it’s a truly extraordinary work by Gabriel Fauré, written in his 80th year, his (only) String Quartet.
Fauré’s music takes us on a long and fascinating journey from the delicious and apparently effortless poise of his earlier music to something almost completely opposite – dark, tortuous and beset equally by doubts and by the determination to go on which sometimes seems to me to foreshadow Samuel Beckett. These qualities emerge in Fauré’s music before and during the First World War, and then in his very last works (including the String Quartet, the last of all, from 1923-4) this sense of striving acquires a kind of luminosity which is absolutely unforgettable.
Like other late Fauré, it works its magic slowly, and doesn’t give everything away at once. Preparing this programme, and listening to the piece repeatedly in various different performances was an ideal way to get this music under my skin. It says a lot for the piece that having now heard it umpteen times I’ve not become in the least tired of it, and in fact it’s now one of my Desert Island discs!
The programme goes out on Saturday 28 March at 9.30am on Radio 3. It can be heard for one week following on Listen Again on the Radio 3 website, and can also be downloaded as a podcast – for further information see CD Review/Building a Library.