Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fantasie-Impromptu Op.66 [4:53]
Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op.61 [12:14]
Waltz No.7 in C Sharp Minor, Op.64, No.2 [2:53]
Waltz No.11 in G Flat, Op.70, No.1 [1:59]
Waltz No.14 in E Minor, Op.posth. [2:53]
Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op.23 [8:36]
Berceuse in D flat major, Op.57 [5:01]
Tarantella in A flat major, Op.43 [3:13]
Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op.27, No.1 [5:21]
Nocturne in D flat major, Op.27, No.2 [5:53]
Thierry de Brunhoff (piano)
rec. 1961

Two composers at the centre of Thierry de Brunhoff’s (b. 1933) repertoire were Chopin and Schumann. It’s hardly surprising when you consider that, from the age of nine, he studied with Alfred Cortot at l'Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, becoming his favourite pupil. Though he hasn’t recorded for many years, studio performances can be found by those willing to explore the second-hand market. I picked up a couple of ‘twofers’ recently, testimony to his fine pianism. One had been released in the now defunct ‘Rarissimes’ series, issued by EMI France in 2004 (585249), containing music by Chopin, Schumann and Weber. Another issue is of the complete Chopin Nocturnes on Pantheon D22727. I’ve also seen a CD of Weber piano works on Erato, apparently only available in Japan. Expanding his discography, Forgotten Records have made a CD transfer of this rare French Vega LP of Chopin works in warm, intimate re-masterings.

Thierry de Brunhoff begins his recital with a sparkling Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66, not over-sentimentalizing the middle section. The Polonaise-Fantaisie is intense and dramatic, and generous on rhetorical eloquence. To the Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57, he brings a charming simplicity, and his sensitivity of touch and delicate filigree adds tonal colour to each variation. Although the left hand metric regularity can seem monotonous in some hands, not here; there’s a tremendous improvisatory feel in the pianist’s rhythmic elasticity. There’s some technically assured playing in the G minor Ballade, with de Brunhoff displaying instinct and intuitive feeling in his traversal of the emotionally charged dramatic narrative. A hypnotic beauty imbues his Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27, No. 2, where the melody gently floats over the left-hand semiquaver arpeggio accompaniment. Tenderness and tranquillity inform the reading, with de Brunhoff basking in the ardent lyricism of this popular piece.

In the mid-1960s de Brunhoff was involved in a serious car accident, which adversely affected his concert career, so he began to focus on teaching. In 1974, as Frère Thierry-Jean, he entered the Benedictine monastery of En Calcat near Toulouse where, as far as I know, he remains to this day. By strange coincidence, I recently came across an excellent recording of some Schubert piano works by another French pianist, though born in India in 1947, called Jean-Rodolphe Kars (Decca Eloquence 480 6575 (Schubert) as well as 468 552-2 and Decca 470 190-2), who also answered a religious calling. Brought up in the Jewish faith, he converted to Catholicism in 1976. In 1981 he gave up his concert career and, in 1986, entered the priesthood, becoming Père Jean-Rodolphe Kars. Since 1986 he has been Chaplain of Paray-le-Monial, a town in the Burgundy region of France.

No notes are provided with this release but there is an abundance of material on the internet on Thierry de Brunhoff, and some interesting Youtube postings.

Stephen Greenbank