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
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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A characteristic poetic expressiveness through irrepressible figuration, Polish folk rhythms and lyrical harmony.