Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Barcarolle No.1 in A minor, Op.26 (publ. 1881) [5:19]
Ballade Op.19 (1879) [15:38]
Romance sans paroles No.3 in A flat major (1863)[2:30]
Nocturne No.4 in E flat major, Op.36 (1884) [6:43]
Valse-Caprice in D flat major, Op.38 (1882-84) [8:25]
Barcarolle No.3 in G flat major, Op.42 (1885) [9:08]
Pièces brèves Op.84, No.4 (1902) [3:30]
Pièces brèves Op.84, No.5 (1901) [2:00]
Nocturne in D flat major, Op.63 (1894) [9:10]
Après un rêve (transcribed by Percy Grainger) [2:50]
Christine Croshaw (piano)
rec. 26-28 August 2014, church of St. Edward the Confessor, London
MERIDIAN CDE84636 [65:47]

Christine Croshaw has participated in several satisfying releases from the Meridian label, including chamber and solo music by Moscheles, and chamber works by Hummel, Saint-Saëns and Weber. These latter mentioned discs were also recorded at the church of St. Edward the Confessor, so collectors will know what to expect from this resonant acoustic. I admit to liking plenty of air around when it comes to recordings, and the perspective for this Fauré disc is comfortably distant – not lacking in clarity and detail, but also by no means with the microphones placed right under the lid of the piano. These are all valid decisions, and the payoff here is in pianistic colour and elegance of legato which suits this music very nicely indeed. Maximum amounts of bass-note throb from the Fazioli piano are however not to be expected.

It’s not remarked upon in her online biography, but Christine Croshaw has continued her distinguished career as a performer and educator despite becoming blind in the last decade. This need of course have no influence on our impressions of this recording, but surmounting the extra challenges involved is something few of us can properly imagine and I feel deserves at the very least a passing mention.

Croshaw’s own booklet notes for this release point out the sensual and seductive side of Fauré’s music, reflecting the importance of his rich harmonies in the opening Barcarolle Op. 26 No. 1 by giving them plenty of weight and delivering so much more than just melody + accompaniment. Elegant melodic shape with just the right balance of expressive flexibility characterises the Chopin-influenced opening to the Ballade Op. 19. This is certainly “the masterpiece of the composer’s early period”, and in its substantial duration carries a distinctive musical narrative that somewhat gives the lie to an earlier point made by a contemporary writer that Fauré’s music “evokes no story, no picture”. These things are certainly in the mind’s ear of the beholder, but in this performance at least I feel a palpable emotional journey at work, and plenty of subtle imagery always close to hand, if at times elusive in its constant changes of nuance.

The Romance sans paroles No. 3 is even earlier, and in its more direct salon style still packs a magnetic attraction, especially with Croshaw’s firm delivery of the leading bass line. Well chosen for their contrasts of lightness and virtuosity to go along with more heart-on-sleeve romance, the remainder of the programme has the great Nocturne in D flat Major Op.63 as its restrained but eloquent emotional climax. Croshaw’s attention to detail with shading and colour, inner voices and Fauré’s restless conversation between soprano and tenor ranges make for compelling listening, creating a world of theatrical illusion so effective that all of the mechanical props of technique are forgotten.

Discs of Fauré’s piano music haven’t appeared in vast quantities over the years, but the most recent one I’ve encountered is that with Angela Hewitt on the Hyperion label (review). The Hyperion recording is closer and captures more of the grain of the lower strings of the piano in its more ‘studio’ balance, but in essence these two recordings complement each other even where there are overlaps in the programme. Hewitt has a more impish sparkle in the lighter, more dance-like pieces, but I find myself equally drawn to Croshaw’s persuasively earnest style in performances that create a potent atmosphere right down to the brief transcription of Après un rêve which appears almost as an encore, but leaves us wanting more.

Dominy Clements

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