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Track listing at end of review
Miki Aoki (piano)
rec. 6-8 January 2015, Kleiner Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin, Germany
PROFIL PH15023 [66.00]

For her third album Miki Aoki has turned her attention to French piano music. Playing the music of Francis Poulenc led Aoki to investigate the music of his contemporaries in particular Les Six an informal yet influential group of composers who were friends. Comprising of Charles Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Germaine Tailleferre and Poulenc himself Les Six were associated with the cosmopolitan Parisian bar and café scene of the 1920s. The group was based in Montparnasse on the left bank of the river Seine, a trendy area that became the centre of intellectual and artistic life in Paris. Going its own way, Les Six abandoned the established style of Liszt and Wagner and the impressionism of Debussy, concentrating on ideals of precision, clarity and simplicity. In 1919/20 the group collaborated for a collection of piano pieces titled L'Album des Six the only time all six published a work together. These are fascinating pieces but certainly none could be claimed as coming close to greatness. In the hands of Aoki the Durey Romance sans Paroles and Tailleferre Pastorale certainly feel close to the sound world of Debussy.

In addition to his Valse in L'Album des Six Poulenc is represented here by his Three Novelettes; the set of eleven miniatures Les soirées de Nazelles and the single movement Mélancolie. When writing Les soirées de Nazelles, a set of variations positioned between a Préambule and a Finale, Poulenc was influenced by hearing Les Folies Françaises by baroque composer François Couperin. This is a notable performance from Aoki providing just the right balance between eloquence and subtlety. Standing out is Aoki’s playing of Mélancolie which is Poulenc at his most passionate, steeped in introspection. The set of Three Novelettes is alluring, with Aoki relishing its contrasting set of moods and tempi.

Championed by Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie was a progressive, vibrant and highly eccentric character in late 19th/early 20th century Parisian music. Although not a member of Les Six Satie was an influence on the group. Satie’s best known work the set of Three Gymnopédies was published at Paris in 1888. Written in 3/4 time these are brief piano miniatures with a common theme and structure. Imbuing an atmospheric sense of melancholy Aoki is a highly sensitive performer completely at one with Satie’s compositional approach where no note is superfluous and nothing is hurried. Playing these pieces with essential restraint Aoki communicates playing of a near hypnotic effect.

Supplementing their contributions to L'Album des Six Milhaud is represented by Caramel mou with its jazz feel reminding me of Scott Joplin piano rags and Honegger by his Souvenir de Chopin a haunting, late work reminiscent of a Fauré Barcarolle.
Recorded in the Kleiner Sendesaal, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg the sound engineers have provided clarity, realistic presence and a satisfying balance. This is an engaging release full of evocative atmosphere which I have found hard to stop playing. Aoki’s finesse, lightness of touch and requisite sensitivity feels vital, illuminating the textures with outstanding results.
Michael Cookson
Track listing
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Mélancolie (1940) [6.00]
3 Novelettes: (1927/28 rev. 1939, 1958/59)
Novelette, I [2.59]
Novelette, II [1.49]
Novelette, III [2.36]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
3 Gymnopédies: (1888)
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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