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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Après un rêve - A Fauré Recital, Volume 1
Pavane, Op. 50 (arr. L. Lortie for piano) [5:41]
Barcarolle No. 5 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 66 [5:18]
Nocturne No. 4 in E-Flat Major, Op. 36 [6:00]
Barcarolle No. 6 in E-Flat Major, Op. 70 [3:12]
Après un rêve, Op. 7, No. 1 (arr. P. Grainger for piano) [3:15]
Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, Op. 80 (Version for Piano) [17:34]
Barcarolle No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 90 [3:00]
Nocturne No. 6 in D-Flat Major, Op. 63 [8:15]
Nine Préludes, Op. 103 [22:38]
Louis Lortie (piano)
rec. 2016, Snape Maltings, Suffolk, UK
CHANDOS CHAN10915 [75:01]

This is the first volume in a Chandos series devoted to the piano music of Gabriel Fauré. The pianist Louis Lortie, in his ‘performer’s note’ in the CD booklet, reminds us he has a pedigree in this music, of a sort that performers rightly value: “It is a matter of very personal significance to me to record this album…for I should like to dedicate it to the memory of Yvonne Hubert, my first piano teacher. It was she who several decades ago introduced me to the music of her contemporary…who in 1910 awarded the Premier Prix of the Paris Conservatoire to a girl, aged only fifteen, who would go on to become one of Canada’s most influential pedagogues.” Hubert was also a pupil of Cortot, which perhaps in part explains Lortie’s long-acknowledged excellence in French music as witnessed by his Chandos discs of Ravel, Poulenc, and Franck.

We can now add Fauré to that list, for this selection is a notable success. The selection ranges, again in Lortie’s words, “through Fauré's various creative periods, from easily appealing early pieces…through to the late and unjustly neglected Préludes, a masterpiece of condensed harmonic and melodic audacity.” In fact, the resulting conspectus makes this a very desirable stand-alone disc for anyone wanting a sample of Faurė’s piano music. Another fairly recent fine Fauré recital, by another Canadian noted in French music, Angela Hewitt (Hyperion 2012, review), does not have such a wide range of different pieces as this one does, even though the Hyperion seems to have been the one-off recital, whereas this Lortie disc is volume one of an intégrale.

The Nocturnes and Barcarolles are not especially long, but that does not mean they are insubstantial. The well-known Nocturne No.6 Op.63, the longest track here at 8:08, receives an especially haunting performance in its lyrical opening section, then draws us further in with its ingratiating rhetoric, and later on its compelling virtuosity – though Faurė’s difficulties are said to be of the sort more noticed by the player than the listener, which might be one reason he is not found in that many live recitals. The Fourth Nocturne also begins lyrically but grows more intense through its minor section to a climax which Lortie duly delivers without pulling punches. The Barcarolles chosen (numbers 5, 6, and 7 of the 13 Fauré wrote) give some support to the commonly heard (but surely over-stated) claim that Fauré’s works are ‘elusive’, at least compared to the Nocturnes. But they are so persuasively played here that only a few listenings – with the help of Roger Nichols’s full and clear booklet notes – suffice to enter their world, if not to penetrate all their mysteries.

The suite from the incidental music to Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande is far more satisfying for solo piano than you might expect, perhaps because that was how it was first written (the orchestration is in part by Charles Koechlin, presumably from a piano or short score draft, as time was short). The transcription of Fauré’s best-known song ‘Après un rêve’ works well also, and better than that of the famous Pavane. That is not of course a piano solo and there is no piano arrangement by Fauré, so Lortie has made his own version. This is effective enough, but the elegance of the original is inevitably reduced, though there can be little quarrel with Lortie’s tempo or phrasing. The left-hand accompaniment plods a little too prominently perhaps, at least as balanced here. Otherwise the capture of the warm, close piano sound is exemplary.

The little known late Nine Préludes Op.103 make a fine and fitting close to this disc. These short pieces too are often described as ‘elusive’ but here their delights are quite direct, which does not mean that Lortie is indifferent to nuance and subtlety, qualities in which his playing abounds. There no exact competitor to this programme, and it shares only one piece (the Nocturne No.6) with Angela Hewitt’s CD. Overall this Lortie issue has to be a strong recommendation, whether you are a seasoned collector of Fauré’s piano music, or looking for an introduction to its world. There is discernment as well as directness in this thoroughly idiomatic playing, quite free of cliché. In fact the only cliché is the one Lortie shares with that Hewitt disc – namely, cover art courtesy of Claude Monet.

Roy Westbrook



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