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Miki Aoki (piano)
rec. 6-8 January 2015, Kleiner Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin, Germany
PROFIL PH15023 [65.58]

This CD was reviewed some time ago by Michael Cookson, who described it as “an engaging release full of evocative atmosphere which I have found hard to stop playing.” Miki Aoki has recorded Kodaly for Hänssler Profil and been involved in the highly successful chamber music recording The Balyayev Project (review). Mélancolie is her third album for this label.

Recorded with an enticing warmth and depth, we are immediately embraced by the subtle pianism in Poulenc’s Mélancolie, a piece that avoids drippy sentimentality while expressing a wide range of poignant emotions. Miki Aoki tells us that it was Poulenc’s works that gave her an entry into the 1920s world of Les Six, and there is no particular concern in allowing him the lion’s share in this programme. Aoki feels Poulenc’s style very well, with those song-like lines soaring over nicely balanced and exquisitely coloured harmonies. The third Novelette is a delicious place to enjoy the best of this kind of playing.

Erik Satie is a founding figure if not a numbered member of Les Six, so his Gymnopédies are a pleasant and legitimate if not entirely necessary addition to this programme. Aoki plays these with just enough pace to make the melodies sing, though is also just enough on the slow side to be concert-hall rather than café. The series of musical portraits in Les soirées de Nazelles offers a world of delights and challenges for any pianist, but Aoki is sensitive to Poulenc’s swift changes of mood, from the playful rough and tumble of Le comble de la distinction to the stately weight of La suite dans les idées. My reference in Poulenc’s piano works of late has been Paul Crossley in his complete 3-CD set on the Sony Classical label, and it is clear that he is more willing to challenge Poulenc’s apparent hatred of rubato. I like both players in all of these pieces as qualitatively equivalent but with contrasting approaches, Crossley more overtly pianistic and extrovert, but Aoki by no means lacking in terms of the required wit and sharpness of observation.

The Album de Six is the only collection in which all of the composers in the group collaborated or contributed. Honneger’s Sarabande is perhaps the strongest work and a centrepiece in this collection of fine miniatures, a set that has been given surprisingly few complete recordings. Milhaud’s amusingly syncopated Caramel mou and Honegger’s lovely Souvenir de Chopin written for the 1946 film Un ami viendra ce soir complete the recital, an appropriate conclusion as it was the last work he composed for piano.

This is a very fine and easily recommendable release. The booklet might have profited from a little more information about the individual works, but we are introduced to the ‘dazzling’ Paris of the 1920s, the circumstances around Les Six and their relevance to the crossover music scene of today.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Michael Cookson

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Mélancolie (1940) [6.00]
3 Novelettes: (1927/28 rev. 1939, 1958/59) [7:24]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
3 Gymnopédies: (1888) [9:45]
Gymnopédies, I [3.27]
Gymnopédies, II [3.14]
Gymnopédies, III [3.04]
Les soirées de Nazelles (1930/36):
Préambule: Extrêmement animé et décidé - Variations [3.38]
I: Le comble de la distinction - Vif et gai [1.14]
II: Le cœur sur la main - Modéré [2.43]
III: La désinvolture et la discrétion - Presto [1.27]
IV: La suite dans les idées - Très large et pompous [2.09]
V: Le charme enjôleur - Très allant [2.24]
VI: Le contentement de soi - Très vite et sec [1.16]
VII - Le goût du malheur - Lent et mélancolique [2.49]
VIII - L'alerte vieillesse - Très rapide et bien sec [1.19]
Cadence - Très large et très librement [1.23]
Final - Follement vite, mais très prècis [4.31]
Album de Six (1914/20):
Georges AURIC (1891-1983)
Prelude [1.28]
Louis DUREY (1888-1979)
Romance sans Paroles [2.34]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Sarabande [2.00]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Mazurka [1.03]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Valse [1.58]
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
Pastorale [2.11]
Caramel mou (1920) [3.49]
Souvenir de Chopin (1945) [2.08]



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