The nearest Maurice Ravel got in five attempts to winning the
musical Prix de Rome was in 1901, when his String Quartet could
only manage third behind André Caplet's cantata Myrrha.
This much-told anecdote usually omits to mention the Second
Prize winner, who was French composer Gabriel Dupont; no relation
to Debussy's lover, Gabrielle Dupont. Dupont's output is small,
his life cut short by illness, yet his lack of recognition is
a cause for dismay.
However, wheels appear to be moving within wheels, and just
a year after Canadian pianist Stéphane Lemelin's excellent
recording for ATMA Classique's of Dupont's Les Heures Dolentes
and La Maison dans les Dunes (review),
along comes another by French pianist Bernard Paul-Reynier.
Paul-Reynier is an elusive chap, so much so that any information
at all about him is hard to come by - perhaps that is why even
Passavant omit a biography! This appears to be at least his
fourth recording for the label, however.
Dupont wrote Les Heures Dolentes ('The Mournful Hours')
whilst suffering and then recuperating from tuberculosis. The
suggestive subtitles of the fourteen movements reflect a physical
and mental journey through convalescence at a spa, from the
peacefulness of 'Evening Falls inside the Bedroom', the early
optimism of 'Sunshine in the Garden' and 'A Lady Friend Has
Come with Some Flowers', the ambiguities of 'The Doctor', the
eerie resignation of 'Death Lurks' and the sinister sonorities
and rhythms of 'Sleepless Night - Hallucinations'. Fortunately
Dupont survives and the work finishes with relief and perhaps
a little hope in 'Calm'. A subtle, aromatic blend of Impressionism
and late-Romanticism, recalling at times Fauré, Debussy
and Granados, the music is programmatic, but poetic, not clichéd;
atmospheric from beginning to end, and overall memorably colourful
and rather beautiful. For les heures indolentes, ‘Les
Heures Dolentes’ makes perfect listening.
La Maison dans les Dunes ('The House on the Downs') is
even better. Though again composed by Dupont whilst at a seaside
refuge for TB sufferers, he was, temporarily at least, in much
better health, and the vividness of this suite reflects that.
The House in question looks out to sea - and what can be seen
there in the course of a day, from the movements of the waves
to sail boats, all manner of weather and the changing sky, is
what the ten movements seek to evoke. The music, steeped in
beautiful chromatic harmony, is by turn playful, sun-bathed,
agitated, poignant, but always gloriously lyrical. Given especially
the watery theme, Debussy not surprisingly looms large, Ravel
to a lesser degree, but Dupont's sound is original and in some
ways has greater immediacy and wider appeal. The House in
the Dunes is transcendent music perfect for gazing out onto
the water on warm summer days under great blue skies. Failing
that - anytime, anywhere.
Besides Lemelin, the prolific Bulgarian pianist Emile Naoumoff
has recorded both these works for French label Saphir (LVC1097).
Saphir subtitled their double-disc the 'Complete Works for Solo
Piano', but Oxford Music Online notes at least some further
Feuillets d'Album. It was re-released in 2010, the same
year French pianist François Kerdoncuff's recording of
La Maison dans les Dunes was released on the Timpani
label (1C1072) - that CD has the advantage of including Dupont's
substantial Poème for piano quintet. According
to Passavant's website, the present disc was first made available
in 2009, though the publication date on the product itself says
2010. Either way, it was re-released in August 2012.
Paul-Reynier takes a far more leisurely pace than Lemelin, Naoumoff
or Kerdoncuff, especially in Les Heures Dolentes, where
he is around six minutes slower than the slowest of the competition.
Yet he never seems to linger too long or make the music drag
- these are dreamy, laid-back works that do not need to be rushed.
At more than an hour in length, Les Heures Dolentes on
its own is a mammoth work, requiring substantial stamina and
agility. Paul-Reynier certainly has that and never loses his
way, bringing experience and intelligence to Dupont's vivid,
endlessly imaginative music in very satisfying, stylish interpretations.
The booklet notes are in French only. As there is no biography
of Paul-Reynier anyway, a workaround for those who cannot read
French would be the fine booklet that came with the ATMA recording
- it can be downloaded/previewed for free here.
Readers inspired to obtain the Lemelin recording will not be
disappointed. Those that do know French will find the Passavant
notes brief but well written and presented in an attractive
way with plenty of colour and illustrations.
Sound quality is very good. Lemelin's recording benefited from
a spacious church acoustic - Paul-Reynier's was done in the
studio and is consequently drier and closer. Of the three double-CD
sets available, Passavant's is cheapest, ATMA's dearest.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk