A goodly crop on which to say a few words about issues from two French labels, Calliope and Indésens.
The “Franco-British” pianist Orlando Bass (born 1994) gives us Volume Two of “Piano Modern Recital” (the first one came from Patrick Hemmerlé), albeit going as far back as 1910 for Sergei Taneyev’s Prelude and Fugue (Opus 29), private and melancholic, with the feel of improvisation, before a fiery (and complex) Fugue takes over. Amy Beach is represented by a Prelude and Fugue from 1917; rather akin to late Liszt, stern and dreamy, the Fugue trenchant, even severe – I can imagine the Bostonians of Mrs Beach’s circle being taken aback by this music. Even earlier than both, if only by a year, 1909, Szymanowski’s Prelude and Fugue, richly counterpointed and expressively heady, more “modern” than either the Beach or the Taneyev, yet they are both surprisingly forward-looking. Fugue plays a part in each work here, as in the Finale of Yuriy Shamo’s Piano Sonata No.3 (1969), a concise punchy and tone-row-lyrical affair, with glimpses of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Alfred Schnittke’s Improvisation and Fugue (1965) is a dissonant, truculent beast; whereas Michel Merlet’s Passacaglia and Fugue (1988) is knotty and rather depersonalised, ditto Bass’s own Prelude and Fugue (2016), angst- and cluster-ridden, then a prickly Fugue, technically accomplished (as he most certainly is as a pianist) if without a discernible personality. Closing the disc is Passacaglia, Intermezzo and Fugue by Dimitri Mitropoulos (celebrated as a conductor of course, and he was a fine pianist, too); this 1924 piece is rigorously organised (Schoenbergian) yet releases an emotional engagement as well. The sound from Paris’s Temple Saint-Marcel is a little too resonant if without compromising clarity and dynamics. [INDÉSENS INDE104; 71 minutes; ***]
A further Indésens release entitled “Sonates, Danses et Rhapsodies” features Debussy, a terrific collection, a compilation of previously available recordings, seemingly. The three Sonatas (violin/piano, cello/piano, and flute/viola/harp) are included in sympathetic, persuasive, fluid, and often-bewitching accounts, but then so is the music. Add to which Syrinx (flute), the Rhapsodies (for clarinet/piano, and for saxophone/piano), and Danses sacrée et profane for harp and (here) string quintet. It’s a lovely listen-through anthology, and the impressive artists include Tatiana Samouil, David Lively, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, Claire Désert, Vincent Lucas, Jérôme Pernoo, and members of the Berlin Philharmonic. [INDÉSENS INDE105; 72 minutes; ****]
Turning to Calliope, but remaining with Szymanowski and adding Ravel, Quatuor Joachim plays their String Quartets, two in the Pole’s case, Opuses 37 and 56 (1917/27), exotic and volatile music, languorous and febrile, unpredictable from one page to the next, sometimes warmly expressive, at others driven by nervous energy; the Second Quartet, also full of mood-changes, is texturally leaner but no-less pictorial and animated, the passionate high-point being the intense and spectral Finale. Splendid performances from the Joachim musicians, very well recorded in December 2015, and they also do plenty of favours to Ravel’s sole Quartet – shapely, refined, intimate, colourful, and also buzzing with feeling. [CALLIOPE CAL 1747; 65 minutes; *****]
Finally, back to basics, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a selection of piano music from Christian Chamorel, who brings clarity and agility to the F-major Sonata (K533/494) with nicely judged contrasts of touch and dynamics, poetic in the slow movement and gently teasing in the Finale (the 494 part), ideally paced at the marked Allegretto – the sort of playing that reveals music rather than imposing upon it. With good recorded sound (October 2017 in L’Heure bleue Music Hall, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland) Chamorel also includes the E-flat Sonata (K282), A-minor Rondo, B-minor Adagio, K455 Variations, and ends with the strangely spiky Gigue (K574) that Tchaikovsky orchestrated to open his Suite No.4. [CALLIOPE CAL 1851; 69 minutes; *****]