Jean-Paul Sevilla has a long list of prizes
to his name dating back to his days at the Paris Conservatoire
in the 1950s. He’s now also well known as a teacher in Canada
– Angela Hewitt is his most distinguished pupil. He has made
a number of recordings of French music, some of it pleasingly
little known, and now contributes a two-disc set of Faure.
There are more
ways to play Fauré than just the prescriptive one. Even within
the French “tradition” that Sevilla may, in some sense, be
seen to inherit, the divergences between, say, Germaine Thyssens-Valentin
and Marguérite Long are as marked as any musicians from any
school. So there is always room for manoeuvre in this repertoire.
That said, Sevilla’s performances baffle me.
worryingly with the little Pieces Brèves where Sevilla
was outgunned, where they overlapped, by Albert Ferber’s old
Saga performances, now on CD. Was a Capriccio less
capricious than Sevilla’s? Was an Improvisation duller?
The Nocturnes highlight the greatest problems. A rather metronomic,
uninflected routine afflicts them, almost as if Sevilla has
– can this be possible – no affection for them, or if he has
it has long since drained away into the sands. The First has
no left hand tension or colour building, the Second is absurdly
done, with those opening measures sounding like catastrophic
wrong notes. The voicings and rhythm of this and the Third
are woeful and the fourth has no sense of fantasy or colour.
Best to stop here. Turn to Thyssens-Valentin’s 1950s recordings
now on Testament and all becomes miraculously alive – the
poetic curve, the rhythmic vivacity, the endless colouristic
sense. In a more modern, maybe smaller-scaled performance,
such as by Jean-Philippe Collard the strain of fantasy and
colour also run deep, far deeper than Sevilla could allow.
In the Préludes we have a familiar series
of weaknesses. He makes the First sound positively elliptical,
almost recondite through his phrasing – maybe Sevilla wants
to probe the modernist harmonies but to me it sounds merely
mannered and disjointed. The Second Prelude is mere mechanics.
At the same tempo Collard brings a profusion of wit, energy
and colouristic breadth. Even when Sevilla is better – say
in the Third – he still doesn’t sing or elate. The masterpiece
of the Thème and Variations begins relatively promisingly
but soon falls away flat at the very first variation. There’s
no pointing at all.
Enough! This is
a leaden, dispiriting and almost total washout. The recording
is cold, the piano action noisy and the acoustic wintry. Thyssens-Valentin
on Testament and Collard on French EMI will restore your spirits
and warm your veins.