Recorded January, 2002
Radio Studio DRS, Zurich
Gaspard de la nuit
Trois poemes pour piano
d'apres Aloysius Bertrand
a Harold Bauer
II. Le Gibet
a Jean Marnold
a Rudolph Ganz
5e Impromptu Fa diese mineur, op. 102
a Mademoiselle Cella Delavrancea
This disc has everything going for it. First, the repertoire is attractive and challenging. Second, the performance is evocative and virtuosic. Third, the recording is vivid and immediate. What more could a listener want?
First, the repertoire: mixing Faure's proto-modernist Impromptus with Messiaen's ex post facto-romantic Preludes and Ravel's preternaturally difficult Gaspard de la nuit is ingenious, revealing things about all three composers that no other program could reveal. Second, the performance: Alexander Lonquich is a German pianist whose technique is impeccable, whose tone is magisterial, and whose taste is irreproachable, a German pianist who can play French music with cosmopolitan elegance. Third, the recording: perhaps one should by now be used to the irrefutable fact that ECM makes some of the most realistic and impressive-sounding recordings in the world, but each new disc is a revelation. Taken all together, Alexander Lonquich's recital is exactly the sort of thing to excite and enthrall even the most jaded listener.
All Music Guide
Three generations of French composers are represented in this exceptional recital disc by Alexander Lonquich, which moves from the songful "Impromptus" of Gabriel Faure, through Maurice Ravel's exuberantly virtuosic "Gaspard de la nuit", to Olivier Messiaen's "Huit Preludes pour piano'. Messiaen's Preludes, his first published work, already revealed more than hints of the heightened sensitivity to sound-colour and the structural originality that were to make the composer one of the principal architects of the new music. "Plainte Calme", named for one of Messiaen's preludes, pays tribute to the experimental impulse in French music, and the ways in which it has developed alongside intrinsically lyrical characteristics.
Gabriel Faure wrote his five impromptus over a period of more than a quarter-century (between 1882 and 1909) and accordingly Lonquich treats them as autonomous pieces rather than a set, threading them, jewel-like, throughout the recital. As Jessica Duchen points out in the CD booklet, despite his reputation as a choirmaster and church organist, Faure was at heart a pianist, and an uncommonly gifted one: "He was ambidextrous, and his piano writing filled with subtle tricks of voicing, intertwining polyphonic lines and melodies set in the centre of the piano, divided between the hands, often confirms this." While the influence of Chopin and Saint-Saens is marked in the early impromptus, by the third, Faure's songwriting gifts are in full flower, and the fourth "unfolds with a dizzying range of harmonic and rhythmic intricacies". The fifth impromptu is an instance of Faure's increasingly exploratory late style.
Maurice Ravel was one of Faure's composition students at the Paris Conservatoire, although his 1908 work "Gaspard de la nuit" owes its inspirations to other sources. Ravel's goal was to write a pianistic tour-de-force that would top Balakirev's then-popular "oriental fantasy" "Islamey", and to challenge the playing capacities of his good friend Ricardo Vines, the Spanish pianist who was also an important advocate for Debussy's work.
Messiaen's Preludes are in places equally challenging, "Les sons impalpable du reve" for instance "presents the pianist with no fewer than 56 changes of meter in 74 bars", while the synaesthetic notes in the margin point to the future, with the composer calling for "blue-orange mode with ostinato in chords cascaded on a violet-blue mode treated like a brassy gong". The last of the Preludes, "Un reflet dans le vent" is "a signpost toward the music Messiaen was to write for Yvonne Loriod, including the 'Catalogue d'Oiseaux' and 'Vingts Regards sur l'enfant Jesus' - among the greatest works for piano composed in the 20th century."