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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Impromptu (1873) [7:11]
Ronde champêtre (ca. 1870) [3:53]
Dix pièces pittoresques (1881) [42:25] (Paysage [5:49]; Mélancolie [2:39]; Tourbillon [1:31]; Sous-bois [4:30]; Mauresque [3:21]; Idylle [3:51]; Danse villageoise [4:36]; Improvisation [5:20]; Menuet pompeux [6:10]; Scherzo-valse [4:33])
Aubade (1883) [4:45]
Ballabile (pub. 1897)[1:33]
Caprice (pub. 1897) [2:49]
Feuillet d’album (pub. 1897) [2:13]
Habanera (1885) [4:35]
Bourrée fantasque (1891) [6:38]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy, 19-22 June 2004.
HYPERION CDA67515 [76:06]
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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 for seasoning.

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 for.

In terms of recording, performance, and production, another success for the Hewitt-Hyperion collaboration.

Brian Burtt


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