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Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
iano Music
Les Pieces Brèves Op.84 (published 1902) [15.17]
Thème et Variations [15.04]
Nocturnes Nos. 1-13 (published 1883) [84.45]
Préludes Op.103 (1909-10) [24.11]
Jean-Paul Sevilla (piano)
rec. IRCAM, Paris, May 1997 and 1998, Préludes recorded La Muse en circuit, November 1995
TIMPANI 2C2083 [65.30 + 76.40]



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.

Things started 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.

Jonathan Woolf






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