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

Jean Doyen (1907-1982) is a perfect representative of the French piano school promoted by APR in their evolving series of discs. His repertoire is tempered to French sensibility, and his digital legerdemain ensures absolute clarity of articulation and an avoidance of subterranean pedaling. The result is a sequence of 78s that proves as illuminating stylistically as it is convincing artistically.

The 78s date from 1930 to 1943 and, as is usual with APR, run in composer sequence rather than chronologically. The set opens with the brilliantine flair of Chopin’s Variations on Mozart’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’ with its insouciant wit and rhythmic clarity, and moves on to the Chopin Ballades, recorded over two days in February 1941. These pellucid readings are the obverse of magisterial, avoiding grandiloquence and overt romanticism, preferring instead poise, clarity and assured but ever-sensitive directness. Of the two waltzes he essays, the G flat major has a tremendous sense of Gallic wit. His Liszt reveals an artist of textural transparency and command. The Trois Études may not be the most temperamental examples on disc but there is little lack of bravura or any skating over the music’s more contemplative eloquence, nor in the 1935 Ultraphone of Waldesrauchen and Gnomenreigen

The second disc is all-French. Camille Chevillard’s arrangement of Chabrier’s España – on a c.1930 Sonabel – is played with vivid colour and panache, whilst the Bourée fantasque, taken from a slightly scuffy Ultraphone, reminds one somewhat of the kind of genius for this repertoire shown by Lazare-Lévy. That engaging soufflé, Saint-Saëns’s Valse-Caprice (the ‘Wedding Cake’), finds Doyen partnered by the Cantrelle Quartet but the remainder of this disc is made of sterner stuff. He flies through Fauré’s Barcarolle No.2 on an Érard piano, a recording which won him a Grand Prix du Disque in 1935 but later performers – Kathleen Long, say, or Germaine Thyssens-Valentin – were more circumspect. The most historically important recordings, though, are the first-ever complete Images Book 1, a technically exemplary and lithe reading dating from 1943 and the first complete Gaspard de la nuit, an HMV from 1937. This last is a formidable example of Doyen’s art. Its unruffled technical brilliance and nonchalant refusal to exaggerate is of a piece with all the performances here.

There is a fine and extensive booklet essay by Frédéric Gaussin that goes into considerable detail regarding Doyen’s early years, training and subsequent career and explains why the pianist was not legally allowed to bear his surname until 1949, and then by decree. Transfers preserve surface noise the better to retain higher frequencies.

Given his discography I hope that this will not be the only twofer devoted to his art in this series. Chopin, Liszt and French music were certainly supplemented by other composers – and APR reprints, in black and white, a c.1932 Fotosonor picture disc of Doyen playing Scarlatti which should be fascinating to hear.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: 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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