Chabrier
Pieces pittoresques – Scherzo-valse; Idylle
Bourree fantasque
Faure
Ballade, Op.19
Ravel
Jeux d’eau
Pavane pour une infante defunte
Gaspard de la nuit
Satie
Gymnopedie No.1
Naida Cole (piano)
CD No: DECCA 748 021-2
Duration:
Reviewed: January 2002
Forget the flowery sentences, the would-be original compliments, and criticism of tiny details. There are only two tests that indicate whether a CD truly touched the reviewer.The first is if the disc takes an honoured place on the shelf; the second is if it provokes the listener to look at the score or (if he happens to play the instrument) to play it himself. A release like this, of a mixed recital by an artist beginning to climb the ladder, is an ideal candidate for such tests.
It is not inappropriate that Naida Cole wears flowers in her hair, since in programming and execution this is very much an Impressionist and Post-Impressionist recital. Cole plays with the simplicity and immediacy of Gaugain and the detail and sparkle of Monet.
The highlight for me is Chabrier. Pieces pittoresques is unjustly neglected; overlooked repertoire is often a good place for new performers to make their mark. Like the Impressionist painters, Chabrier blends high- and folk-culture. Cole makes a particularly good case for ’Scherzo-valse’, wonderfully spirited and skittish by turns, the ’perpetuum mobile’ refrain played with admirably precise fingers. Indeed, Cole is excellent with writing that conveys rapid movement. She makes light of the considerable difficulties of Jeux d’eau, which emerges as a seamless shimmer of metaphorical water.
However, Cole’s ease is her weakness. She is so able to spin beautiful melodic lines, and so technically adept in smoothing out difficulties, that she glosses over the depth of the music. The dead infant’s beauty is suggested but not the sadness of those who mourn her. Each note of the clichéd Satie is played with love, but the overall effect is empty. Come Gaspard, the strangeness and menace of ’Le Gibet’ is missing, and ’Scarbo’ has become a relatively benign figure; ’Ondine’ is delivered as an extension of Jeux d’eau without mystery and other-worldliness. Cole’s recital starts well with Fauré, his Ballade played affectionately, without over-sophistication, and with a keen sense of melodic shape.
I wonder how much the perceived style of a pianist is influenced by the house-style of a recording company. Decca CDs are usually bright-lit; this one is no exception and emphasises that Cole is happier with showpiece playfulness than intrinsic expression.
Those tests? I came to this CD without any preconceptions and I am sure I shall listen again, so the first test is passed. As for the second – well, insofar as it made me unearth my dusty copy of Chabrier and grit my teeth to make another doomed attempt at Jeux d’eau, it passes this one too. I was not though compelled to tackle the complexities of Gaspard. Nevertheless, when Naida Cole looks back on this debut recording at the end of what will no doubt be a distinguished career, I think she will be pleased by its coherence rather than disappointed by any naiveté. This is a thoughtfully organised programme full of attractive moments, which augurs very well for the future.

 

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