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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Intermède (1952) [2:31]
Thème Varié (1951) [11:15]
Trois Movements Perpétuels (1918) [5:39]
Valse-improvisation sur le nom de BACH (1952) [2:01]
Fifteen Improvisations (1933-1959) [25:12]
Badinage (1934) [1:53]
Mélancolie (1940) [6:15]
Trois Pièces (1918-1928) [8:41]
Aleck Karis (piano)
rec. 19-21 December 2014, Summer Center, Concordia College, Bronxville, New York, U.S.A.
BRIDGE 9459 [63:45]

What could be more enjoyable than a Poulenc piano recital? This is neo-classicism at its best: clean and bitter-sweet. It is intimate in scale, yet its attitudes still keeps the listener at a somewhat puzzling distance. The pieces are like tiny morsels of ice, often assuming gently mocking contours, revealing the heritage of great French baroque harpsichord pieces. The music is not profound, but it is rarely superficial.

American pianist Aleck Karis is a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and has made a broad range of recordings, from Mozart and Chopin to Stravinsky, John Cage and Morton Feldman.

Karis includes several of the most popular Poulenc works, including the Theme and Variations of 1951, the Mouvements Perpétuels of 1918, and the Trois Pièces of 1918-28. He also offers the Fifteen Improvisations. Although these were composed over a period of three decades, Karis treats them as a single composition, a view which holds up well. I miss the set of eight Nocturnes from 1938; others may crave the Suite Francaise but this is a good selection for a single disc of Poulenc.

The performances are enjoyable, with smooth and often elegant playing. Yet Pascal Rogé, Paul Crossley and Gabriel Tacchino are more satisfying. Tacchino, for instance, is more astringent, better able to deploy Poulenc’s gentle irony. Karis is more easy-going in his approach. His rhythms are more flexible, and his melodies favour sweetness over tartness. He underplays episodes which in other hands show Poulenc’s frenzy and sass. The relaxed approach also underplays moments of nobility, such as in the Hymne which forms the centre of the Trois Pièces.

The recording quality is good but not exceptional. It is detailed but resonant, and perhaps a touch heavy in the bass.

This welcome disc introduces the world of Poulenc’s keyboard quite honourably, but it does not displace old favourites, such as Tacchino and Rogé.

Richard Kraus



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