The cover of this disc
features the "busty barmaid,"
a detail of Manet’s A Bar at the
Folies-Bergère. It turns
out that this not just gratuitous eye-candy.
This is one of many paintings that Chabrier
owned. Hearing Wagner marked a turning
point in his life. It caused him not
only to weep tears of sentiment, but
to give up his bureaucratic career to
devote himself to composing music, and
appreciating the arts, full-time.
Like Chopin, Chabrier
was fond of, and adept at deploying,
dance forms. Unlike Chopin, Chabrier
uses them in far less formal, more loosely
organized ways. In this, he does not
share Chopin’s affinity to Bach. Some
of these pieces claim in their name
a Spanish inspiration — the Habanera,
for instance, or the Mauresque
(Moorish). Chabrier, in fact, spent
musically formative time in Spain, and
is best known for the orchestral España.
These piano works show, however, the
barest inflection superimposed on the
French accent. None speaks the Spanish
language like a native.
The main work here,
or set of works, is the Ten Picturesque
Pieces. The remaining pieces, however
- the Impromptu, Ronde champêtre,
Aubade, and so forth - are not
mere fillers, but similar in spirit.
They begin as dance, are transformed
through the lens of early impressionism,
and have just a dash of local color
Angela Hewitt has gone
from recording the keyboard works of
Bach to surveying a variety of French
music: Couperin, Ravel, the French-Pole
Chopin, and now Chabrier. Her style
is consistent - on the intellectual,
reserved side. This is a tendency, but
not an extreme one. Hers is the elegance
of the salon, rather than the fervor
of the revolutionary barricade. To fans
of Hewitt, this disc will be self-recommending,
and I have but encouragement for them.
By way of comparison:
Kyriakou’s recording of the complete
piano music on Vox (CDX 5108) is available
at super-budget price. However, her
performance is soft-edged and often
rhythmically flaccid. The recording
is opaque enough to obscure things even
more. Alain Planès’ recording
(Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951465) has similar
problems, though restricted to quieter,
slower passages. Kathryn Stott’s (Regis
RRC 1133) is most similar in approach
to Hewitt’s, but a bit more extroverted.
I would recommend Hewitt’s recording
as closest to the spirit of the music,
though I would also note that Stott’s
is available at half the price. Each
of the mentioned recordings has a slightly
different set of accompaniments to complete
the Ten Picturesque Pieces.
The notes are written
by Jean-Paul Sévilla, who is
credited as one of Hewitt’s teachers.
A helpful - particularly to the newcomer
- description of the structure of each
piece gives pointers as to what to listen
In terms of recording,
performance, and production, another
success for the Hewitt-Hyperion collaboration.