Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Complete Solo Piano Works
Grande Fantaisie sur 'Le Pardon de Ploërmel' (1861) [8:56]
Dix Pièces de Genre, op.10 (1867) [20:08]
Le Roman d'Arlequin - Pantomime Enfantine (1871) [6:50]
Sept Improvisations (1875) [17:06]
Toccata (1892) [2:09]
Deux Impressions (1892) [5:00]
Un Momento Musicale (1897) [3:14]
Devant la Madone (1897) [3:07]
Valse Folle (1898) [3:04]
Valse Très Lente (1901) [3:10]
Musique pour Bercer les Petits Enfants (1902) [2:29]
Deux Pièces (1907) [3:41]
Stefan Irmer (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Marienmünster Abbey, Germany, 21-23 June 2011. DDD
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 618 1729-2 [79:43]
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').
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Fairly conservative but certainly not unimaginative or dull.