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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
In paradisum: A Fauré Recital - Volume 2
Pie Jesu from Requiem, op 48 (trans. Lortie) [3:47]
Barcarolle no. 12, op. 106bis [3:16]
Nocturne no. 11, op. 104 no. 1 [4:55]
Ballade, op. 19 [14:33]
Nocturne no. 7 op. 74 [8:05]
Thème et Variations, op. 73 [15:27]
Barcarolle no. 1, op. 26 [4:19]
Barcarolle no. 10, op. 104 no. 2 [3:01]
Nocturne no. 10, op. 99 [5:06]
Nocturne no. 13, op. 119 [8:42]
In Paradisum from Requiem, op. 48 (trans. Lortie) [3:40]
Louis Lortie (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20149 [75:54]

The music of Gabriel Fauré is a constant study in contrasts. Moments of harmonic simplicity coincide with bewildering forays into anarchic chromaticism; peace and contentment come up against despair and even anger; an angelic spirituality resides alongside eroticism. Nowhere are these contrasts more audible than in Fauré’s piano works, which seem to have functioned as a sort of emotional diary for the French composer.

This new recital from Louis Lortie is the second of a series that will presumably encompass the complete canonical piano music plus transcriptions. The recital is not chronological in nature, but rather presents the pieces in a complementary order of Lortie’s devising. The grief-stricken Nocturne no. 11 written in memory of Noémi Lalo (wife of critic Pierre Lalo) follows the consoling Pie Jesu; the nocturne is succeeded by the vernally joyous Ballade. As a result of this careful curating, the disc succeeds as a true recital to be heard in one sitting.

Louis Lortie plays every work on the album with detailed tonal color and a fine sense of appropriate rubato. The use of rubato is one of the most difficult aspects of Fauréan performance; Claire Croiza, a singer who performed with composer in concert, once said that Fauré had a metronome in place of his heart. Interpreters who lavish Chopinesque rubato on Faure’s phrases can make the music seem cheap and sentimental, a trap into which Lortie never falls. I should note that Lortie’s Fauré is not the weak, sickly Fauré of the drawing room; these are very much concert performances, with significant core to the sound and a wide range of dynamics. Although the entire album features beautiful playing, I will single out two pieces: the Ballade and the Thème and Variations.

The performance of the Ballade is particularly striking. Although a successful rendition can make it come off as a gorgeous yet fairly relaxed piece, the Ballade is in fact satanically difficult. The work’s prickly technical nature stems in part from its key signature (F# Major – six sharps!), but also from Fauré’s multi-layered texture that demands careful voicing of a melodic line that is often combined with myriad scales and arpeggios in the accompaniment. Liszt himself threw up his hands after attempting to sightread it, and Fauré later transcribed it for piano and orchestra, lessening the difficulty of the piano part to some extent. In Lortie’s hands, the solo version is enchanting, a veritable fairyland full of half-tints and sparkle.

Also remarkable is Lortie’s reading of the Thème et variations. This piece is a Gallic version of the Schumann Études symphoniques; it is elegant and moving at times, but lacks the obvious virtuosity of the older piece. As a result, few pianists tackle the Fauré, given the apathy it provokes in most audiences. Lortie is fearless in the thornier variations, playing at a breathless pace with much shape and detailed articulation. In the introspective variations, he plays with sensitivity and warmth.

Lest this seem too adulatory, I would venture one criticism: the two transcriptions from the Requiem, although beautifully played, cannot capture the smooth legato and otherworldly shimmer of the originals. I would prefer to hear Lortie in transcriptions of the mélodies or heftier orchestral pieces, as on the previous recital album.

I look forward to future installments of this series.
Richard Masters

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