Jean ABSIL  (1893-1974)
Selected Piano Works
Trois Impromptus op. 10 (1932) [4:24]
Sonatine op.27 (1937) [7:13]
Marines op.36 (1940) [12:52]
Cinq Bagatelles op. 61 (1944) [7:38]
Grande Suite op. 62 (1944) [13:55]
Hommage à Schumann op. 67 (1946) [5:35]
Esquisses sur les sept péché capitaux op.83 (1954) [12:04]
Echecs op. 96 (1957) [17:06]
Danses Bulgares op. 102 (1959) [10:45]
Deuxième Grande Suite - Hommage à Chopinop. 110 (1962) [17:04]
Sonatine op. 123(1966) [4:02]
Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
rec. 2009-10, Royal Conservatoire Hall, Brussels. DDD
FUGA LIBERA FUG578 [55:21 + 60:30]
Open to widening your experience of the piano solo repertoire: Then this set may well be for you. If your tastes run towards Debussy into early twentieth century modernism short of the dodecaphonic divide then I cannot immediately imagine a better choice than this major tranche of Belgian composer Jean Absil's piano music. None of this is in the salon category. These are however works demanding the utmost virtuosity and intelligent application. These they receive in generous measure from Daniel Blumental.
The Three Impromptus move between cut-glass gamelan insistence and Berners-like rockpool eddies. The Sonatine op. 27 is a mercurially contemplative yet centred piece redolent of the French masters of the period 1900-1920. Again there's that manic gamelan patter in the finale. Marines is a series of oceanic impressions in Ravelian apparel. The Cinq Bagatelles are full of engaging character. Take the hypnotic Moroccan Musette for a start. The Grande Suite op. 62 is also from 1944. It lacks the baroque movement titles of the Bagatelles but shares their affluently varied mood spectrum. The little op. 67 Schumann Hommage pulsates with life without being especially like Schumann.
When Absil could have jumped ship in the 1950s and embraced trendy dissonance - which had in fact been around for many years - he instead adhered loyally to the values he had imbibed in the 1920s and 1930s. This is clear from the op. 83 Esquisses sequence with its sketches inspired by the seven deadly sins. They're pretty sybaritic apart from the irritable La Colère. When you are next putting together a programme themed around chess don't forget the wittily pecking and swooning Echecs by Absil. The character of those pieces is vividly limned. The Danses Bulgares would go nicely among the Rumanian folk songs and dances played by Kirsty Johnson on Guild (vol. 1; vol. 2). They are not at all 'difficult'.
Moving into the 1960s Absil's Chopin Hommage is in seven sections. This is more of a tribute, one composer to another, rather than Absil's literal evocation of Chopin’s manner. In Kristin Van Den Buys' note there is reference to these pieces connecting with the structures and technical aspects of Chopin without sounding like him. The music is dreamy yet, as ever with Absil, crystal clear in the textures. The op. 125 Sonatine is in three miniature, lively and contemplative movements. Hearing this you might well halt in your tracks when you discover that it was written in 1966.
Rob Barnett
If you like Debussy and early 20C modernism but short of the dodecaphonic divide then I cannot imagine a better choice for exploration.