Classical Music Review: New Releases

Gabriel Fauré - Piano Music.  Romance sans paroles, Op. 17 No. 3; Impromptu No. 2 in f, Op. 31; Barcarolle No. 1 in a, Op. 26; Nocturne No. 1 in e-flat, Op. 31 No. 1; Nocturne No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 33 No. 3; Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat, Op. 36; Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat, Op. 63; Barcarolle No. 6 in E-flat, Op. 70; Eight Short Pieces, Op. 84; Nocturne No. 13 in b, Op. 119; Impromptu No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 34.  Kathryn Stott, piano. Hyperion CD 67064.

Few composers give deeper pleasure than Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), yet few performers successfully convey his magic, which is intensely private and thoroughly personal.  British pianist Kathryn Stott, however, sounds incredibly sympathetic to Fauré, her affinity perhaps derived from her work with Boulanger, who studied with the composer and helped make his Requiem (1886-87) a repertory piece.  Culled from Stott's four-CD set of Fauré's complete piano music, this recording should please both the initiated and those unfamiliar with its charms, which are never superficial -- sophisticated, yes, but also profound.

Fauré's composer student Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) said his master's work was "varied by the thousand sentiments touching love," and that goes a long way towards defining its elusive and ambivalent content.  (There's a new biography on Fauré from Phaidon).  The composer was, after all, wounded by his broken engagement to Marianne Viardot, daughter of famed mezzo Pauline Viardot, and ended up in a thoroughly bourgeois marriage of many years.  Perhaps that shadow feeds his work, which though beautifully appointed usually hides something basic, even fierce.

The 13 Nocturnes (1875-1921) are perfect examples of this and there are six here.  No. 1 in e-flat veers from reverie to resolve and has an especially beautiful songlike section with typically oblique harmonies.  No. 3 in A-flat has the character of a seductive waltz -- delicate, melancholy -- while No. 4 in E-flat is a song with a long and varied meditation on the opening motif -- virtuosic yet entirely musical.  No. 6 in D-flat is of a more passionate cast, and it requires real rhythmic independence between both hands.  No. 13 in b begins with suspensions as if the composer -- he was deaf by this time (1921) -- was finding his way in the dark.  As always, different sections convey different emotional states, and there's an astonishing part with firmly rising triads against an arpeggiated line.  The other pieces here are in the other classic forms that Fauré worked in.

Stott's playing combines technical security with real sensitivity to the music's shifting humors, and she projects its lines superbly.  Her versions far surpass the pretty phlegmatic ones by French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard.  Proust knew and admired Fauré (the composer Vinteuil is partly based on him) and it's not hard to see why:  this is music of real sensibility, and a very deep one at that.

Michael McDonagh
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