> VIERNE solo piano works [RB]: Classical Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
The works for solo piano

Twelve Preludes Op. 30 (1914-15)
Silhouettes d'Enfant Op. 43 (1918)
Deux Pièces Op. 7 (1893)]
Le Glas Op. 39 (1916)
Three Nocturnes Op. 35 (1915)
Suite Bourguignonne Op. 17 (1899)
Solitude Op. 44 (1918)
Olivier Gardon (piano)
rec.May/July 1994, Théâtre de Poissy DDD
TIMPANI 2C2023 [2CDs: 67.53+71.27]

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Timpani have a very good ear for artists. Gardon was a pupil of Lili Kraus, Geörgy Sebök and Geza Anda. He has recorded with Kang and Chiffoleau - with the latter having recorded Alkan for Timpani as well as the Vierne Cello Sonata. His technique gives every appearance of security and more to the point he shows imaginative sensitivity to these unfamiliar pieces by Louis Vierne. The two discs hold all the piano music authorised by Vierne for publication.

The Twelve Preludes date from the start of the Great War. The stormy first piece marries the darkness of John Ireland's Ballade with the Rachmaninovian intensity of York Bowen’s Preludes (the latter recorded complete by Timpani artist, Marie-Catherine Girod). The same brutality inhabits No. 4 - Souvenir d'un jour de joie. Tendresse (no. 2) bears the innocent smile of Ireland's On a May Morning. Nostalgie is dewily dreamy but objective - without tears. Evocation d'un jour d'angoisse is the longest of the set. It may well owe its existence to the fact that his companion since 1911, Jeanne Montjovet left him in April 1915. Suprême Appel (No. 9) is an heroic ballade suggestive of Chopin's Polish revolutionary spirit. The final Seul ends in breathtaking beauty and stillness. Words fail me to describe its lovely regretful slowing into silence. The trajectory of these Preludes is inescapably towards pessimism and this is surely bound up in the end of his relationship with Montjovet. Overall the sequence is likely to appeal to those who like their Rachmaninov with a smattering of Chopin. York Bowen fanciers (a growing league since the Hyperion-Stephen Hough CD) should not hesitate either.

The Silhouettes d'enfants are redolent of Schumann's Kinderszenen and the rounded and lovely anachronisms of Richard Flury (on the Gallo label). There is, in the earlier pieces of the five, a touch of Lord Berners. The Barcarolle is a soothing preamble to the final Handelian Gavotte. The Two Pieces (originally a triptych - the third has disappeared) are student pieces in the style of Chopin. The first disc closes with the Le Glas (The Knell) from 1916. Those putting together recitals around the Great War should not forget this haunted and desolate piece echoing slowly with the dull tolling of the iron bell of death.

The Three Nocturnes were premiered in Vierne's beloved Lausanne; his refuge from grief, torment and guilt. Poignantly, they were also played at the Front by René Vierne shortly before René's death in action. The Cathedral movement is concerned with a cathedral interior gradually 'invaded' by night and may well remind us of Debussy’s Le Cathedrale Engloutie. The second piece has that warming self-effacing triumph we find in the piano music of John Ireland. The lovely final Nocturne sings of the stars shining and the nightingale in song. This is close to the most ethereal of Chopin with an insistent flowing left-hand ostinato.

The turn of the century Suite dates from Vierne's early sunniest days with Arlette. It is not desperately original but carefree and confident in a mode that takes Chopin as its starting point.

Solitude is a substantial sequence of four pieces. These are dedicated to his brother René who was killed (literally pulverised by an Austrian shell on 29 May 1918). Hantise (Obsession) is in F sharp minor and moves from dark protesting drama to shadowed expressionistic tonality. The other movements are Nuit Blancher; Vision hallucinante and La ronde fantastique des revenants. The last piece marries a bleached out emotion-drained cemetery scene with some highly emotional Rachmaninovian material. It could have been the more effective if Vierne had, as he did elsewhere, held firm to and developed the mood of the occluded and mesmerising motif he used at the start of the piece. As it is the work ends without conviction with a concert flourish that seems grafted on rather than naturally evolved. Solitude was premiered in Lausanne by José Iturbi in 1918 and then given in Paris in 1920. Parts of this work recall another 'memento' of the great war - Frank Bridge's Piano Sonata written in memory of Ernest Bristow Farrar - also killed in action.

Vierne's tragoedic music is a powerful and far from perfumed contribution to the world of early twentieth century piano music. In the Preludes, certain parts of Solitude and in the Three Nocturnes we encounter music of the most gripping control and emotionalism. Moving performances and fine recording by Gardon and Timpani's engineers respectively. Documentation is by Jean-Pierre Mazeirat on which I have drawn without shame.

If you need one piece to convince you then go to CD1 track 12 and listen to Seul. In title and in music it says much about Vierne that the many tragedies that struck him with such force did not leave him taciturn or silent but reaching out to us now with a contemporary force. An extraordinary composer.

Rob Barnett

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