Jules Massenet made his name and fortune as a prolific opera
composer, but he was also a fine pianist, and returned to the
keyboard throughout his career. On this excellent disc, experienced
German pianist Stefan Irmer plays in chronological order all
of Massenet's works for solo piano, which the composer handily
arranged to squeeze onto an eighty-minute CD.
As with his operas and orchestral suites, Massenet's piano music
is fairly conservative in character, but it is certainly not
unimaginative or dull. Each miniature is thoughtfully sculpted
to provide the same quality of cantabile lyricism, impressionistic
detail and musical drama Massenet delivers in his operas. Virtuosity
is decorously restrained, but a lissom, spry approach is still
required for any pianist to do the music full justice. With
his easy, 'hands-off' manner and well-read pianism, Irmer unfailingly
strikes the right balance. The two longest works, the Ten Pieces
op.10 and the Improvisations, are more than worthy of a place
in any pianist's repertory, but in truth any item will instil
in pianist and audience alike a feeling of instant fondness.
New Grove disagrees on a couple of points with MDG: first, that
it should be 'Un Memento Musicale' rather than the given
'Momento'. Second, more significantly, that there is an additional
work for solo piano, held, unlike all the above, in the Paris
Conservatoire: Ma Cousine - Pantomime written c.1872.
There are also several piano works for four hands awaiting reanimation.
MDG pride themselves on the high quality and integrity of their
recordings, and do a sterling job here too, with a bright and
airy sound. Irmer plays a period Steinway D (1901), which, though
perhaps lacking some of the finest nuances of a modern instrument,
nevertheless sounds well suited to Massenet's music.
The accompanying booklet is excellent with regard both to information
- a short essay on Massenet and a work-by-work description of
the pieces by Irmer himself - and design, with a detailed track-listing
that is never cluttered, and a clean, neat presentation of the
notes in English, French and German in an eye-friendly font.
Pictures of Massenet and Irmer both looking approachable round
it off nicely. For reasons best known to MDG, all tracks are
digitally 'tagged' almost entirely in Japanese - an irritation
for those who like to rip their CDs. The booklet does not name
the atmospheric cover picture - Gustave Caillebotte's Rue de
Paris, Temps de Pluie ('Paris Street, Rainy Day').
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