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Jean Doyen (piano)
Chopin, Liszt & Music from France
rec. 1930-1943
The French Piano School series
APR 6030 [76:40 + 69:31]

Jean Doyen (1907-1982) was not only the quintessential French pianist, but also the proverbial home bird, with a career largely confined to his homeland. His repertoire – closely aligned to the French classics – reflected this. He made his name especially in the music of Gabriel Pierné, Reynaldo Hahn, Vincent d’Indy, Maurice Ravel, and Gabriel Fauré.

Doyen was born in Paris, and was a graduate of the city’s Conservatoire. His teachers were Louis Diémer and Marguerite Long. He later studied counterpoint with Georges Caussade, and composition with Paul Vidal and Henri Büsser. From 1941 to 1977, he was professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire, succeeding Marguerite Long. Idil Biret and Philippe Entremont were among his pupils. He had a daughter Geneviève Doyen (1944-2004), who was also a pianist.

Chopin played a central role in Doyen's performing repertoire. In February 1941, during the German occupation of Paris, French HMV recorded him in the four Ballades. The readings are aristocratic, with an instinctive feel for the architecture and structure of these epic scores. One gets a sense of a logical narrative in each. The performances also reveal technical finesse. Meticulous care is taken over phrasing and chordal voicing. The transfer engineers had access to more than one shellac copy for the first three Ballades, but only one copy of the third side of No. 4. So the sound here is slightly inferior. The two Waltzes, set down during the same sessions, are stylish, and played with unruffled ease.

Two years later, in March 1943, Liszt’s Three Concert Études, S144 were recorded. The lesser-known Il Lamento is my favorite. The listener is swept away and seduced with lyrical outpourings. Doyen had already set down the Two Concert Études, S145 in 1935. Waldesrauchen is gleaming, and you feel the wind blowing through the trees, whilst Gnomenreigen is impish. March 1943 also saw the first recording of Debussy’s Images Book 1. The limpid arpeggios of Reflets dans l'eau evoke the rippling water, and there is poise and elegance in Hommage à Rameau. Mouvement is characterized with stunning precision and rhythmic energy.

In May 1937, Doyen was chosen to make the first recording of Ravel’s devilish Gaspard de la Nuit on an Erard piano. The pianist’s sense of fantasy and imagination, coupled with a myriad range of colours and dynamics, make this an impressive account. It opens with a seductive and aqueous evocation of the water nymph Ondine. I particularly like Le Gibet. Under Doyen’s fingers, it is bleak, static and funereal. Scarbo ends the cycle with sweeping diablerie and fire. The scintillating piano arrangement of Emmanuel Chabrier’s España by Camille Chevillard is a show-stopper. Whist Doyen meets all the technical challenges with aplomb, for me his performance does not quite match Aldo Ciccolini’s more polished and subtly nuanced account.

The set contains two items where the pianist is joined by supporting collaborators. In Chopin’s Variations on Mozart’s Là ci darem la mano Op. 2, Doyen is accompanied by an unnamed orchestra under the direction of Jean Krettly. The work brims over with florid passage work and dazzling brilliance. The Cantrelle Quintet partner Doyen in Saint-Saëns’s Valse-Caprice ‘Wedding Cake’ Op. 76, where the pianist's filigree is likewise exceptional for its clarity and effervescence.

Sound quality is variable throughout the set, as can be expected with recordings of this age, but all past muster as far as I am concerned. This is my first encounter with this pianist, and I am immensely grateful to APR for making these recordings available.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1
Frédéric CHOPIN
1.Variations on Mozart’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’ Op. 2, UNNAMED ORCHESTRA / JEAN KRETTLY, recorded in January 1936
2. Ballade No 1 in G minor Op. 23, recorded on 27 February 1941
3. Ballade No 2 in F major Op. 38, recorded on 28 February 1941
4. Ballade No 3 in A flat major Op. 47, recorded on 28 February 1941
5. Ballade No 4 in F minor Op. 52, recorded on 27 February 1941
6-7. Waltzes in D flat major ‘Minute’ Op. 64 No 1 & G flat major Op. 70 No 1, recorded on 28 February 1941
Trois Études de concert S144: 8. Il lamento 9. La leggierezza 10. Un sospiro, recorded on 3 March 1943
Zwei Konzertetüden S145: 11. Waldesrauschen 12. Gnomenreigen, recorded circa June/July 1935

CD 2
1. CHABRIER/CHEVILLARD España (arr. piano solo) (6.44), recorded circa 1930
2. CHABRIER Bourrée fantasque (5.44), recorded early 1935
3. SAINT-SAËNS Valse-Caprice ‘Wedding Cake’ Op. 76 (5.53), CANTRELLE QUINTET, recorded in August 1935
4. FAURÉ Barcarolle No 2 in G major Op. 41 recorded early 1935; 5. Nocturne No 6 in D flat major Op. 63, recorded on 23 February 1937
6-8. DEBUSSY Images Book 1, recorded on 15 March 1943; 9. Poissons d’or (from Images Book 2), recorded early 1935
10-12. RAVEL Gaspard de la nuit, recorded on 19 May 1937


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