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Plainte Calme
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
3e Impromptu in A flat, op.34 [4:57]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Préludes: 1. La colombe [02:02], 2. Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste [06:45], 3. Le nombre léger [01:39], 4. Instants défunts [04:40], 5. Les sons impalpables du rêve [03:16], 6. Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu [08:35], 7. Plainte calme [03:21], 8. Un reflet dans le vent [04:59]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
1er Impromptu in E flat, op.25 [04:00], 4e Impromptu in D flat, op.91 [04 :39], 2e Impromptu in F minor, op.31 [03 :45]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la Nuit: 1. Ondine [06:40], 2. Le Gibet [07:26], 3. Scarbo [09:31]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
5e Impromptu in F sharp minor, op.102 [02 :09]
Alexander Lonquich (piano)
Recorded January 2002 in the Radio Studio DRS, Zurich
ECM NEW SERIES 1821 472 4002 [79:42]


In 1976, at the age of sixteen, Alexander Lonquich won the international Casagrande Competition in Terni, Italy, and was quickly taken up by the principal Italian concert societies as well as by the RAI. For a few years he settled in Milan where he took lessons from the redoubtable Ilonka Deckers-Küszler and his career has remained to some extent Italian-based though appearances throughout Europe and the United States have not been lacking. It remains a sorry reflection on the blinkered nature of the musical world, however, that, had he been London or New York-based, we should have heard much more of him on record. His best known achievement on disc to date is the cycle of Mozart sonatas with Frank Peter Zimmermann for EMI, but it did not lead, for example, to a cycle of Mozart concertos, of which he is one of the finest present-day interpreters.

That he is a marvellous pianist is plain from his “Gaspard de la Nuit”. The opening of “Ondine” is magically “distant”, the supple melody weaving its spell over shimmering 32nd notes, swelling out at climaxes without a trace of hardness. In “Le Gibet” the mournful bell tolls atmospherically, always present even in moments where the texture becomes so crowded it scarcely seems possible to bring it out clearly (and in many other performances it gets lost or else stabbed at); again, the big chords are always rounded and luminous. “Scarbo” gets a fantastically fast and light performance, always clear in texture and volatile in interpretation. As magical a performance as one can get of this much-recorded work.

Though comparisons are fewer in the Messiaen, I have no doubt that it is on the same level. Listen to the way in which the chattering cascades are separated from the more sustained melody in “Les sons impalpables du rêve” or how, after the colossal build-up in the first part of “Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu”, the most melting music then emerges with a complete change of colour. I’ve complained recently about several pianists who don’t “orchestrate” the music; let them listen to this. By the way, if you don’t usually like Messiaen, this was his first published work and, while it contains many pointers to the future, it also contains much evocative writing in a post-Debussy manner.

Reservations? Well, I haven’t mentioned the Fauré yet, although one of the disc’s selling points should be the way in which this composer’s five Impromptus have been neatly used as a prelude, interlude and postlude to the recital. Unfortunately, I’m afraid Lonquich seems to me to have got the wrong end of the stick entirely here, adopting a dry, even aggressive style, far from the delicate, perfumed elegance which is surely at the base of these pieces. Perhaps he wished to get away from this “salon” image of Fauré, but in my experience this music actually reveals the deep feeling behind it when played with a beautiful tone (which Lonquich has in abundance in Ravel and Messiaen), but apparently casually, emotionally looking the other way, as it were. The note-writer (influenced by the performance?) calls Impromptu no.2 a “glittering tarantella” but surely something much more sinuous than this Percy Graingerish romp is required.

The recording itself sounds very fine if you play it much louder than I usually consider desirable either for myself or for my neighbours, but a bit dull and plumy if you play it at a normal level. Playbacks in the studio tend to use high levels and this may be necessary to ensure that the smallest defect is picked up, but before giving the sound the OK and getting on with the recording, do they always turn it down and hear the effect as most purchasers will hear it in their sitting-rooms?

For Ravel and Messiaen, as well as a general reminder of an important pianist, this disc is urgently recommended. Maybe you will like Lonquich’s way with Fauré more than I did. I hope ECM have plans for plenty of Mozart and Schubert.

Christopher Howell

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