Chopin, Liszt, Francaix, Gershwin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Nyman, Ellington, Satie, Ravel
DECCA 476 159-5 (2-CD)
reviewed by Neville Cohn
In yet another fine 2-CD issue in the DECCA SBS series, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is showcased in a compilation that lasts just under two and a half hours. Especially in the French repertoire, Thibaudet shapes to the demands of the music like Moet and Chandon to a goblet.
I savoured his account of Debussy’s Pour le Piano. In the Prelude, and unlike that famous recording of some decades ago on a Columbia LP by Walter Gieseking which is informed by a softly mellow sound, Thibaudet brings glittering tone to flawlessly stated note streams. I admired, too, his account of the Sarabande which comes across like a little marvel of dignified introspection ¬ and the lightness of touch in the Toccata is everything one could have wished for.
In Ravel’s Piano Trio, Thibaudet is joined by stellar co-musicians violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis in a recording of breathtaking quality. Pantoum is magical with its delicate, quasi-pointillist sounds and feather-light buoyancy. The inherent solemnity of the Passacaille is near-perfectly evoked, the perfect foil for the finale in which gossamer-delicate, souffle-light textures at high speed astonish the ear.
Central to much of Thibaudet’s playing is a quality of elegance, wonderfully apparent in Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, drawing on the deepest wells of expressiveness in the opening pages and demonstrating prestidigitation in the capriccio that places Thibaudet comfortably to the fore of current finger-Olympians. Thibaudet’s interpretation impressively captures the elfen nature of much of the writing; it is an interesting contrast to Julius Katchen’s famous DECCA LP recording made years ago which is tonally very much more substantial.
Thibaudet’s skill in executing rapid, silvery-toned, delicato treble traceries with the nonchalance of mastery is much in evidence in Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase.
And of his account of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2, it is the slow movement that is most memorable, coming across in so thoughtfully lyrical a way as to sound like an extended, beautifully considered nocturne briefly interrupted by abrupt declamations midway. Thibaudet is soloist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic conducted by Valery Gergiev. And he is a flawless soloist with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal under Charles Dutoit in Francaix’s engaging Concertino – but sounds not entirely in sympathy with Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy.
Can there be a more hackneyed Chopin nocturne than his opus 9 no 2 in E flat, regularly massacred at the hands of earnest young piano players at eisteddfodau. Listen, then, to Thibaudet’s account – and give thanks that such artistry exists to unlock the exquisite potential of this little piece.
There’s also a vignette by Duke Ellington – A single petal of a rose – its quiet, introverted beauty evoked to the nth degree.