Vierne: Piano Quintet Op. 42, String Quartet Op. 12 / Levente Kende, Spiegel String Quartet

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VIERNE Piano Quintet in c. String Quartet in d Spiegel Str Qrt; Levente Kende (pn) MDG 644 1505 (58:18)

For many a music-lover from across the ocean, the Spiegel String Quartet won’t sound familiar. However, the ensemble (founded in 1996) has embarked on some really exciting projects throughout the years, among which are several critically acclaimed concerts. Together with the Danel Quartet, they are among Belgium’s leading chamber ensembles. For this occasion, the Spiegel Quartet works with Hungarian-born pianist Levente Kende. This talented and experienced artist frequently performs all over the world, and chose Belgium as his permanent home base.

The music of Louis Vierne is often seriously underestimated; although it’s frequently regarded as unoriginal and second-rate, it’s sensitive, distinguished, and absolutely fascinating music. Vierne can be seen as one of the tragic figures of the late 19th century in French Romanticism; he was extremely unlucky with his health (he was virtually blind), and suffered the loss of some of his closest family members—among whom were his brother and his son. These emotional struggles are clearly reflected in his music. Some will feel a strong sense of melancholy and sadness, but one cannot deny that the world he created is extremely sensitive, nevertheless. The Quintet op. 42 consists of three movements, of which only the last is an outspoken Allegro. The other two (Moderato and Larghetto) render a vibrant and colorful canvas of gently developing harmony. The String Quartet op. 12 is Vierne’s first serious chamber music composition: he wrote it at the age of 24 and it’s brighter and more vivid than the Quintet.

The Spiegel Quartet and Levente Kende offer a warm and natural performance. The group sounds well balanced, with structured phrasing, particularly the middle voices. Violinist Elisa Kawaguchi plays delicately but lacks proper leadership—she remains far too careful throughout and leaves the initiative to her colleagues. Jan Sciffer’s cello is warm and full-bodied; clearly phrased with a refined articulation. Levente Kende is mostly known for his particular feeling with chamber music. He proves to be a reliable partner who understands the art of contributing to the music by means of coloring and supporting his partners.

A fine alternative recording is to be found on Hyperion with Stephen Coombs and the Chilingirian Quartet (a recording of both piano quartets). It’s an impressive disc with Hyperion standards—a reflective approach to Vierne’s music.

MDG captures a clear sound image, albeit a little over-reverberant. The recording was made in a renovated barn (the exact German word “Ackerhaus” is tough to translate), and the acoustics are not really ideal for this recording. However, the overall impression is one of professional work on all levels.

FANFARE: Bart Verhaeghe

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 6441505-2

  • UPC: 760623150529

  • Label: MDG

  • Composer: Louis Vierne

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Spiegel String Quartet

  • Performer: Elisa Kawaguti, Jan Sciffer, Leo De Neve, Levente Kende, Stefan Willems