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Jean ROGER-DUCASSE (1873-1954)
Arabesques: No.1 in F sharp major (1917) [6:50]: No.2 in C major (1919) [4:08]
Barcarolles: No.1 in D flat major (1906) [5:57]: No.2 in G flat major (1920) [8:26]: No.3 in F major (1921) [8:17]
Etudes: No.1 in G sharp minor (1914) [5:47]: No.2 in A flat major (1916) [9:15]: No.3 in G flat major (1916) [7:08]
Rythmes (1917) [6:36]
Sonorités (1918) [5:00]
Patrick Hemmerlé (piano)
rec. 2018, Église Évangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris
MELISM MLS-CD-013 [68:13]

Patrick Hemmerlé has embarked on a Roger-Ducasse series of which this is the first volume. Whether he, like Martin Jones on Nimbus (NI5927), will extend this to three volumes to include works for two pianists remains to be seen, but he has made a formidable start here.

The milieu evokes but hardly replicates – is patterned after, reflective of – Chopin, Debussy and Scriabin, to cite three composers. But even when Roger-Ducasse evokes the more aqueous elements of Debussy, or the patterns of Chopin, or the more fervid qualities of Scriabin, he manages to do so in his own raiment. Even in his first work for solo piano, the Barcarolle No.1 of 1906, his music teems with harmonic succulence and textual difficulty even as it seems School of Chopin, its mixture of high patrician reserve and elements of barely contained exuberance offering a visceral insight into his enthusiasm for the solo piano medium.

The constant sense of motion in the Etudes points to another element often remarked on, which is the sheer technical difficulty of this music. Roger-Ducasse must have had a huge stretch and the myriad of complex voicings and ultra-bold sequences in the second Etude – one of his most overtly Debussy-inspired pieces - call for a pianist who marries virtuosity with stylistic élan. In fact, the pianist, who writes his own booklet notes, tells us that this etude lasts for 12-minutes – though contradicts this in performance by taking only nine. Talking of which, timings are often of limited value when discussing music, but it is not unreasonable to note that Martin Jones very often takes these pieces at a far more measured tempo than Hemmerlé; an interpretative, not a technical matter, I think. The slowest of the Etudes is No.3 ‘en sixtes’, a piece particularly admired by Debussy, and which Hemmerlé plays with real lyric ardour.

If the freshness of the First Arabesque sounds as natural as flowing water, perhaps only a pianist can truly appreciate the tortuous nature of its left-hand figures, elements that Hemmerlé admits in his notes but does well to disguise as much as he can in his knowing and adroit reading. Yet the second Arabesque is charming and disarming, light in spirit and a product of the immediate post-war years. Rythmes (1917) enshrines elements of a capricious nocturne and guitar strumming, a highly diverting and imaginative piece of writing, whilst Sonorités is altogether more lissome. The complex weave of the second Barcarolle suggests a tortuous Scriabinesque admixture, and whilst the third Nocturne, composed the following year in 1921, has its tempestuous moments too, it charts a rather calmer narrative.

Given a fine recording, Hemmerlé is going to be well worth following in this series. He has absorbed the stylistic elements at work in the music and has the technique to cope with its often extreme demands.

Jonathan Woolf

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