Hubeau’s set was recorded
in roughly a six-month period between 1988 and 1989. It’s been
handily repackaged in an attractive green slimline box housing
four CDs. Hubeau is something of a talisman for Fauré chamber
playing and his well-loved early 1960s recordings of the cello
sonatas with Paul Tortelier shows just how acute and perceptive
his understanding was. A quarter of a century later he set down
the complete solo piano works. There are many special and treasurable
things here but equally there are disappointments.
plays the Nocturnes with limpid and rounded tone abetted
by a warmly intimate recording. So much in his playing is attractive
that it seems churlish to nitpick but it must be done. Try the
E flat minor Op.33 No.1. Hubeau is attractive but he lacks the
greater sense of vertical dynamism of Jean Philippe Collard
(EMI but also now on Brilliant Classics 93007), much less the
more incendiary pianism of Germaine Thyssens-Valentin (Testament;
Préludes SBT1400; Barcarolles and Thème et Variations SBT1215;
Nocturnes SBT1262; and the smaller pieces on SBT1263). His basic
tempo in the B minor Op.97 is the same as Collard’s but the
latter is more evocative, his colours more interventionist,
his playing more suggestive and the rhythms more subtly pointed.
Hubeau’s F sharp minor Op.104 No.1 is beautifully done; the
phrasing is delightful but isn’t it just a touch bland? Collard
offers a more characterful and active solution; he peaks and
crests more arrestingly. Even more revealing is the extraordinary
way Thyssens-Valentin explores the complexity and modernity
of Fauré’s harmonies.
have similar virtues of musicality and tone but listen to the
more earthbound Hubeau rhythm in comparison with, say, Collard’s
playfully free A flat major Op.26. The difference is palpable.
Collard’s syntax is altogether more engaging and warmer in the
Barcarolles. Hubeau’s A minor is a halting, rather lumbering
affair by the side of Collard’s. The latter too sounds very
different from the compellingly introvert slowness propounded
by Thyssens-Valentin whose free rubati bring a sense of improvised
introspection to the piece. Hubeau also tends to shy away from
the sheer strangeness of, for example, the Barcarolle in D minor
Op.90, tending to smooth over or elide its sharper, more dangerous
I wouldn’t wish
to suggest – and I don’t think I have – that Hubeau is anything
other than a poetic and warm player. I’ve heard some strange
recital discs from French players of late whose wintry approach
is at total odds to the music and leaves me baffled at their
indifference. There’s never anything of that sort with Hubeau.
His Thème et Variations is in many ways attractive though
not consistently so. And the Préludes are also inconsistent.
The C sharp minor is rather heavy – turn to the more incisive,
eager Collard. And I find the D minor very disappointingly heavy
from the outset.
I think my conclusion
will be fairly clear. These are attractive but small-scaled,
poetic but sometimes unengaged performances. They are often
tonally beautiful but equally too often lack that sense of
engagement and frisson that animates the better and best performances.
Paul Crossley has been highly praised but I have always preferred
Collard. He was young when he recorded the piano works and he
had insight, and was in rapid communion with the music. His
engagement was – and remains – wonderful to hear. Then there’s
Thyssens-Valentin, where there are competing recordings, for
a great Fauré player of an older generation.