Fauré: Nocturne No. 1 in Eb minor,
Op. 33 no. 1
Debussy: Etude ‘pour
les arrpègescomposées'; Preludes, Book I,
‘La fille aux cheveux de lin' and ‘Les
Collinesd'Anacapri'; Book II, ‘Les
féessontd'exquise danseuses' and "Canope'
nobles etsentimentales (Moderé,
Assezanimé, Presque len t— dans un sentiment intime)
Pascal Rogé, piano
CD of "character pieces," mainly by Chopin and Debussy, is labeled "Live
Recital," though also marked as "recorded live, Old Granary Studio, Baccles,
Norfolk, 23-25 October 2009." So presumably it's a studio recording with
invited guests; I had no sense of a live crowd except for polite applause at the
very end. In any case, the program is arranged as it might be for an actual
recital, in clusters: three nocturnes, a group of waltzes, three etudes, six
preludes, and by far the longest piece, Chopin's Ballade No. 4, to conclude
the 72-minute "evening." It's a fascinating program because of its
alternations between the Polish master and the Frenchmen who were deeply
influenced by him while going off in distinctly different directions. The Chopin
works also provide samples of Rogé's sensibility when he moves beyond the
French repertoire for which he is best known. The overall result is,
unfortunately, a mixed bag.
For this reviewer, the problem begins with the first piece, Fauré's subtly complex Nocturne No. 1: the pianist is studiously halting instead of letting the opening melody flow songfully. The more agitated section that follows doesn't have the moody tension that other pianists have brought to it. As for the Chopin Nocturne that comes next, it's thoughtful, if a little ponderous, and satisfying in its stormy climax. Indeed, I liked it better than the lightweight treatment given this Nocturne by the celebrated Ivan Moravec in his complete set. But after I reached for further comparison to Claudio Arrau, who plays this Nocturne as an overwhelmingly emotional tone-poem for piano, Rogé seemed downright plodding.
The three selections from Ravel's Valses nobles etsentimentales are sparkling, as one would expect from Rogé (though some might like a softer, more mysterious rendition). The very famous Chopin Waltz in C# minor that follows is one of Rogé's best Chopin performances: clear-eyed and effortless, if a little cool.
But the Chopin Etude in Ab is again awfully "studied" instead of cascading, and the
"Revolutionary" Etude isn't
nearly as feverish and propulsive as one might desire. In contrast, Debussy's
study in arpeggios is brilliantly performed, with all its remarkably varied
moods (in a less than 5-minute piece) vividly conveyed.
So it goes with the six preludes: the two by
Chopin given decent but unmemorable performances, the four by Debussy quite
dazzling, making one want to hear his complete set (also on Onyx). I especially
liked the rhythmic energy and flashes of color of the "Hills of Anacapri"
Prelude, while "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" has the lovely, unforced
simplicity lacking in the renditions of the quiet pieces by the other composers
on the program.
Finally, the Chopin Ballade No. 4 begins
promisingly with a "once upon a time" atmosphere, but Rogé as storyteller
seems to lose interest in the middle episodes.
I found the piano sound on this recording to be a bit glassy or harsh in the higher octaves and, in the Chopin and Fauré, a bit dull in the middle-to-lower register. But perhaps this is the sound Roge cultivates, and I was never bothered by it in the Debussy pieces. The program notes provide helpful histories of the piano nocturne, prelude, and other "character pieces" as developed by Chopin and others.