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Complete Preludes - Volume 3
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Prelude in D Flat Major [2.27]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Preludes Op 103 [23.45]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Preludes for Piano [37.58]
Alexandra Dariescu (piano)
rec. 2018, Music Room, Champs Hill, UK

This is Alexandra Dariescu’s third recording of preludes for Champs Hill. In the first, she focused on Chopin and Dutilleux and in the second Shostakovich and Szymanowski. I would have expected her to focus on Debussy in this final set, but instead she champions the lesser known preludes of Fauré and Messiaen.

She begins her recital, however, with a glimpse of what might have been with Lili Boulanger’s Prelude in D Flat. Boulanger showed exceptional musical talent from a very early age before her life was tragically cut short by TB at the age of tender age of 24. Dariescu’s performance of Boulanger’s sole piano prelude is refined and poetic. There is a focus on beauty of tone and conjuring up atmosphere and the graduated build-up and final fading away of the piece is adeptly handled.

Fauré’s Preludes date from 1909-1910 when he was starting to lose his hearing. They carry many of the hallmarks of his late style including a spare, clear means of expression and elusive harmonies. I was struck throughout by Dariescu’s beauty of tone, her close attention to detail and the refinement of her playing. The opening D Flat Major Prelude is played with great finesse and subtlety while the étude-like C Sharp minor with its flickering right hand is admirably clear. One cannot help but be won over by the sunny optimism of the F Major Prelude, although I would have liked a little more turbulence and dynamism in the anguished D Minor. The contrapuntal lines of the E Flat Minor Prelude are exquisitely played and for me this is the highlight of the set. The demanding repeated notes of the C Minor Prelude are played with a high degree of technical finish. Dariescu weaves a rich tapestry from the polyphonic lines of the chromatic E Minor Prelude although I would have liked to hear more of the composer’s pangs of anguish.

Messiaen’s wrote his eight Preludes at the beginning of his career when he was only 20. They show his unique harmonic language, a wide palette of tone colours no doubt stemming from his synaesthesia and his passion for birdsong. Each of the Preludes is given a title and an associated description which sets out the colours associated with it. The set was a remarkable calling card from the 20-year-old composer and it deserves to be performed much more often.

This performance from Dariescu is very impressive and compares well with the best performances of this work. She produces a rich palette of tone colours in “La colombe”, while her undulating textures suggest the cooing of the eponymous dove. “Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste” is one of the highlights of the set. The contrast between Messiaen’s succession of bleak chords and the luminous song of ecstasy is vivid and arresting, and Dariescu does an excellent job capturing the mystical qualities of the piece. The rhythmic fluttering of the third prelude (“Le nombre léger”) stands in stark contrast to the stillness of the fourth (“Instants défunts”) although I would have liked to hear more of the oppressive quality in the latter. Dariescu conjures up religious visions and a whiff of incense in the opening chords of “Les sons impalpables du rêve” and brings a darting playful quality to the middle section. Messiaen pays homage to Debussy in the virtuosic final prelude of the set, “Un reflet dans le vent”. Dariescu’s performance has rhythmic bite and she does an excellent job conjuring up the crystalline water music of Debussy. The coda is a barnstorming piece of playing that brings the set to a successful conclusion.

This is a first-rate recital which combines a superb technique with a wonderful musicality. The performance of the Messiaen Preludes is particularly impressive although Dariescu cannot quite match Aimard. Overall, this is an excellent recording and winning conclusion to Dariescu’s prelude trilogy.

Robert Beattie      

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