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Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)
Che fai tù? - Villanelles
The suspended harp of Babel
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Entrez dans la Danse…
Anne Queffélec (piano) Gaspard Dehaene (piano 4 hands)*
rec. October 2016, Arsenal, Metz MIRARE MIR320 [82:23]
This is a beautiful CD. Lovely music, elegant playing, sympathetic recording. An enticing bit of programming, too, bringing together two dozen dance-inspired piano pieces by French composers from the belle époque and the interwar years, with a visitor from Spain thrown in for good measure.
The trouble is, it is in grave danger of suffocating under the very weight of its own niceness.
That danger was brought home to me the very first time I played the disc through. My reviewing practice is to play a disc right through in the kind of situation so many people hear their music, before sitting down and doing a prolonged bit of concentrated listening. With this disc that initial hear-through took place on a rail journey through the borders of Scotland and into the Lake District. It was a stunning late Spring day, not a cloud in the sky, and as we whizzed through the spectacular scenery of daunting mountains, rolling hills, deep valleys, sparkling rivers and lush farmland, the view from my window of lambs gambolling in fields and everything looking green and fresh was of such intense loveliness that I felt myself wholly open to the charms of Ravel, Fauré, Debussy et al. The music proved to be the perfect accompaniment to such visual beauty. The only problem was, when the disc ended, I realised I had been totally unaware of any changes in the music – 24 pieces with an average playing time of just around three minutes had coalesced into a single, beautiful whole.
A second attempt to listen through the disc yielded the same, slightly languorous effect. Only Debussy’s Ballet stood out in a scintillating performance, one of several in which Anne Queffélec is joined by Gaspard Dehaene in duo playing which is so perfectly coordinated that the effect is of a single brain controlling a disproportionate number of fingers.
Back home, concentrating exclusively on the disc, the same slightly hypnotic trance was quickly induced, with tiny touches of spice from Poulenc the only clear indications of a distinct musical personality. A further listening tempted me to check the track-listing to see who had composed one particularly delightfully well-mannered waltz (Gabriel Pierné) and a more vigorous one with just a whiff of virtuosity – which Queffélec tossed off with complete insouciance (Jules Massenet). But while a few old friends did make their presence felt (in one of whom – Pavane pour une infant défunte – I felt mildly disappointed in the rather dry performance) it was nigh on impossible to identify distinct musical personalities emerging from the beautiful sound-world of this musical era. I had to isolate pieces by Hahn and Schmitt to make sure I recognised them, and I never did catch the real personality behind Franck’s Danse Lente. Queffélec’s playing is delightfully unobtrusive, delicate and graceful, the pedal used sparingly and the dynamics shaded with infinite subtlety, but her interpretative discretion goes just a shade too far in a programme where variety is not the most obvious characteristic.
For many, a disc of beautiful piano music which requires no effort in listening, presents no challenge in accepting and makes no demands on the hearer, is an attractive proposition. For them, this disc is a Godsend – although I fear they already have their own self-assembled or bought-in playlists and will not see the point in adding another – but it is worth far more than that.
Julie Sandler goes all out in her booklet notes to elevate this easy-listening programme to something psychologically, sociologically and historically significant, managing to obscure everything in writing which is almost mind-numbingly complicated in the English translation, and hardly any less obtuse in the original French. Queffélec does not do much better in her purple-prosed introduction. Yet her playing is insightful and intelligent, her delivery of the music’s detail precise and measured and her technical command flawless. Piano buffs should love this – if they can manage to keep themselves focused on the single-minded pursuit of listening to an uninterrupted diet of beautiful music and playing.
Contents Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)
Feuillet d'album [2:11] Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Pavane, Op. 26 [5:02] Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Children’s Corner - The Snow is dancing [2:49]
Epigraphes antiques - Pour la danseuse aux crotales [2:34]*
Khamma – Danse [4:14]
Petite Suite – Ballet [3:05]* Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Dolly Suite, Op. 56 - No. 6 Le Pas Espagnol [2:04]* César Franck (1822-1890)
Danse Lente [2:34] Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947)
Le rossignol éperdu - La Danse de l’Amour et de l'Ennui [4:08]
Le rossignol éperdu - Danse de l'Amour et du Danger [3:23] Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Valse folle [2:58] Federico Mompou (1893-1987)
Cancion y danza No. 4 [4:34] Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937)
Valse-impromptu, Op. 27 [3:24]* Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Nocturne No. 4 in C minor 'Bal fantôme' [1:58]
Suite Française -Pavane [3:08]
Suite Française - Bransle de Champagne [2:30]
Suite Française – Sicilienne [1:59] Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Menuet antique [6:39]
Pavane pour une infante défunte [7:06]
Valses nobles et sentimentales No. 2 [2:39] Guy Ropartz (1864-1955)
Dans l’ombre de la montagne – Ronde [4:40] Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Valse nonchalante, Op. 110 [4:21] Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Danse de travers [2:39] Florent Schmitt (1870-1958)
La ronde des lettres boiteuses, Op.58 [1:38]
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