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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 [26:33]
Kinderszenen, Op.15 [14:47]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 Appassionata [20:17]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 [18:08]
Yves Nat (piano)
rec. live, 17 March 1953, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris

I have always had a keen interest in the recordings of French pianist Yves Nat (1890-1956), and over the years have collected all of his commercial recorded legacy. Nat, born in Béziers, studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Louis Diémer, winning the class first prize in 1907. In 1937, he made the decision to retire from concertizing, and to devote himself to composing and teaching at the Paris Conservatoire.  As a result, in the post-war years, his international reputation waned and was confined exclusively to his home country. In 1953 he was diagnosed with cancer and, surprisingly, emerged from his self-imposed retirement. In addition to embarking on an extensive recording programme for Les Discophiles Français, in which he set down a complete cycle of Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas, a substantial amount of Schumann's solo piano music and some Chopin and Brahms, he performed a number of highly praised concerts. These culminated in the première of his own Piano Concerto, with the Orchestre National de la Radio-diffusion Française under Pierre Dervaux at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on 4 February 1954. Sadly, it had all come too late. He succumbed to a heart attack on 31 August 1956, still in his mid-sixties.

This is not the first time this live concert, given on 17 March 1953 at Theâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris has appeared on CD. Back in 1987 Disques Montaigne (TCE 8701) released it, and it reappeared yet again on the Urania label (SP 4224) in 2004. On both those issues the Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2 is notably absent. Also, the date attributed to the concert on these earlier releases is given as 31 August 1953. Disques Montaigne states that the concert was a benefit gala devoted to the centre chirurgical des enfants bleus de l'hôpital Broussais. I was hard pressed to find the pianist’s discography, but finally discovered one in Claude Jouanna's book Yves Nat, du pianiste compositeur au poète pédagogue. It confirms the date Forgotten Records give as the correct one. Anyway, whatever the exact date, the performances are the same. I listened to this recording and the Urania side by side, and finger slips and audience coughs matched precisely. I did notice though that the Forgotten Records transfers are pitched a semitone low.

The 1953 recital features works that were standard fare for Nat. His recorded legacy was unusual in that it concentrated on German repertoire and no commercial recordings survive of his, by all accounts, extensive French solo piano repertoire. There is a 1933 recording of Franck's Variations Symphoniques with orchestra. In 1953 his technique remains robust, but is occasionally frayed at the edges. Nowhere is this more evident than in the coda of the middle movement of Schumann’ Fantasie, a technical nightmare for pianists. The daring leaps across the keyboard here sound laboured, and are flawed with one or two misfires. Yet the dreamlike finale is suffused with poetic insights.

Nat’s rich sonority pays dividends in Beethoven’s Appassionata. Again, one has to make allowances for some technical shortcomings but, setting those aside, he has a wonderful sense of the architecture and structure of this colossus. On the other hand, he can successfully turn his hand to the poetically etched Kinderszenen, characterizing the contrasting thirteen pieces, some introspective, others more exuberant. Not only is there child-like wonder, but his playing evinces a glorious palette of tonal hues. Chopin’s Second Sonata benefits from a resonant singing tone and a wealth of expression. I also like the way he never goes overboard with rubato, but keeps everything contained and within the boundaries of good taste.

No notes are provided with this release. Potential purchasers can be reassured that the sound quality is more than acceptable.

Stephen Greenbank


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