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Julian FONTANA (1810-1869)
Deux Romances, op.18 (1855) [8:05]
Feuilles d'Album - Deux Mazureks, op.15 [5:54]
12 Morceaux Caractéristiques en Forme d'Etudes, op.9, nos.7-12 (Livre II) (1905) [14:51]
Deuxième Grande Valse Brillante, op.13 [5:10]
Fantaisie Brillante sur les Motifs du 'Freyschütz', op.6 (1843) [8:32]
Philippe Devaux (piano)
rec. Polish Radio Studio S1, Warsaw, July 2010, April 2011. DDD

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This hair-raisingly short disc is Polish label Acte Préalable's second volume dedicated to the piano music of the remarkable polymath Julian Fontana. Volume 1, released in 2007, was performed by the young Polish pianist Hubert Rutkowski (AP0160); Volume 3 (AP0262), available soon, stays with the fine French pianist heard here, Philippe Devaux.
Regardless of his own accomplishments, Fontana will always be remembered as the editor of many of Chopin's manuscripts after the latter's death, acting on the authorisation of Chopin's mother to give the world his opp. posth. 66 to 74. His was truly a life spent "in the shadow of Chopin", his lifelong friend whose music he tirelessly promoted even at the expense of his own. Yet Fontana, of Italian descent was not only a gifted pianist and composer, but also a lawyer, journalist, writer and businessman.
His music deserves recognition - it is no pale imitation of Chopin, as the merest dip into this recital will demonstrate. Like Chopin, Fontana does not rely on bravura for effect. Whilst there are many technically demanding passages in all his works, Fontana achieves a characteristic poetic expressiveness - reminiscent of Chopin, yet clearly not him - through irrepressible figuration, Polish folk rhythms and above all an unerring ear for lyrical harmony.
The best music is to be found in the first three items. The Two Romances, for example, subtitled 'Long Time Ago' and 'La Melancolia', are beautiful, haunting and positively oozing pathos. In the Two Mazurkas, the minor keys add to a distinctively Polish yearning. In the Characteristic Pieces op.9 Fontana is at his most virtuosic and inventive. By way of curious footnote, Acte Préalable have allocated the first six of the twelve Pieces to volume 3; in this recital Devaux performs the second six! In the Second Grande Valse Brillante Fontana moves away from simulacrum and closer to imitation of Chopin - but this is more likely a tribute to his great friend, and an attractive one at that.
Devaux's is an interpretation of considerable passion, delicacy, poetic phrasing and intelligence - already deeply familiar with Chopin, he gets inside the music in a way that perhaps only a Frenchman or Pole can. He does hum along in places - whilst Fontana's music is so cantabile that he might be forgiven, others may consider it self-indulgence. Such may also be the general view of the several large photos of Devaux all in much the same Byronesque pose seen in the cover shot.
Sound quality is excellent. The CD booklet has the usual AP quality glossy feel to it, with a canny advertisement for 18 previous releases, including those in the 'Chopin's Disciples' series of which this latest release is part. The Polish-English notes are well written and informative, with a detailed, non-technical account of each work.
Acte Préalable discs rarely give more than an hour's worth of music, and this one falls short even by those stinting standards. Volume 3 will also be a mere 43 minutes long. Surely it would have made a better impression to combine these two recitals by Devaux into one, and omitting one of the short pieces? Acte Préalable can do full discs - volume 1 ran to just over 80 minutes!
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Comment from Acte Prealable

We always try to publish complete works of unknown composers. This is the reason why Fontana is published on 3 CD. Music is not a bread: not the quantity but quality is important. As complete work by Fontana exceed 160 min, thus it is not possible to fit it into 2 CD's. What is the problem if the first CD if full and 2 other exceed a little the half? Also, to respect Fontana's heritage, we added to the third volume free of charge a CD with only one work that we found long time after we finish the work with Mr. Devaux.

It was decision of Mr. Devaux to put the second volume of “Characteristiques pieces” on the first CD.

Our CD's many time approach 80 minutes. But what to do if the repertoire, mainly unknown and difficult to find, is shorter? Should we fill up the CD's any how only to reach 80 minutes? In my huge collection of the CD's the shorter one is of 15 minutes and it is not pop music. It was not mentioned on the cover on inlay. We always mention on the inlay the duration of our CD's. Like that the customer can decide if he wants buy short CD.

In our catalogue 40% of CD's exceed 65 minutes. For such a difficult to find repertoire it is not bad, I believe.

Anyhow sometime our CD's are short not because we are parsimonious, but we do not have enough of repertoire and we do not want to fill up anyhow. We like to produce the monographic CDs. Sometime I have to make a decision if I should wait until I find more scores. If I wait too long, somebody can record first and all my work will be lost. It happened to me few times already.

Thank you for supporting my label.

Jan A. Jarnicki/Acte Préalable






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