Piano Series boasts ‘World Class Soloists on
the South Bank’ but on this evidence this is
a questionable statement. ‘Good-to-Average Soloists
on the South Bank’, maybe, with this recital
being one of its great disappointments. No wonder
Jean-Philippe Collard’s recordings of Schumann
and Rachmaninov have been relegated to EMI’s
super-budget Rouge et Noir label (CZS5 75281-2
and CZS5 69677-2, respectively). Both score
highly on a notes-per-penny ratio: they would
hardly shift otherwise, I imagine.
Schumann is eminently respectable. His way
with Papillons, Op. 2 was initially
acceptable, the languid opening contrasting
with the jerky, fluttering Prestissimo second
movement. Later, left-hand detail could be
dreamy but not indistinct and wondering harmonies
did exactly that. Yet this remained an earthbound
account, good but not inspired.
confirmed impressions. Collard, who sits very
still and lets his fingers do the talking,
displayed his deftness at the works very opening.
But with this wash of notes came a hint of
the typewriter. Eusebius on this occasion
was feeling rather buttoned-up, it would seem,
certainly not as free as the spirit of the
music seemed to warrant. Collard was a mostly
reliable guide (he nearly lost his way at
one point, though) and he was never less than
musical. But as the first half progressed
it emerged that he is never, ever inspired,
not in Schumann at least. True, there was
an air of mystery around the ‘Sehr langsam’
(Eusebius) sixth movement, and Collard proved
on occasion that an intelligent lightening
of tone can work wonders for maintaining interest.
But time and time again one was impressed
merely by surface and/or technical matters.
Collard gave us sterling fingerwork, some
good part-delineation – and a curiously empty
feeling during the interval. Schumann is deeper
than this, and deserves better.
of stand-alone Debussy looked on paper to
be the most interesting part of the concert
from a repertoire angle. The Danse bohéhienne
hails from 1880. The eighteen year-old composer
was criticised by Tchaikovsky for not sufficiently
developing his material, yet Collard presented
it with evident warmth, enjoying the Chopin-influenced
middle section. If he over-projected the main
voices of the Rêverie (1890),
it was still preferable to a vastly under-characterised
L’isle joyeuse (1904). Here there was
little fantasy apparent in the trills and
their surrounding gestures. Outbursts failed
to even approach anything resembling the ecstatic
– only the sonic potentialities of the chords
themselves acted as a reminder of what this
piece should and can be.
might have cynically guessed that Collard
might be more successful on this turf. But
there is a depth to Rachmaninov that is easily
overlooked if one dwells merely on surface
schmaltz. Collard was actually fairly middle-of-the-road
in his approach here. The famous C sharp minor,
Op. 3 No. 2 held some nicely shaded chording,
but the G sharp minor, Op. 32 No. 12 lacked
atmosphere. The opening was hardly evocative
–snow on the streets of St Petersburg this
was not! It was hard-pressed and shallow.
pairs from Op. 23 worked well as programmed
entities. In the D minor, Op. 23 No. 3, Collard
delivered some nice staccato (especially in
the left hand) and the quasi-extempore D major
Op. 23 No. 4 held within it some effective
darker clouds. Interesting that in the E flat,
Op. 23 No. 6 Collard seemed to be trying to
refer back to the world of Debussy. The C
minor, Op. 23 No. 7, rose to a fair climax.
sure Mr Collard played some encores (the punters
liked it). But one can only take so much mediocrity
in one go.