Barcarolle No.1, Op.26
Impromptu No.2, Op.31
Improvisation (from 8 Pièces breves), Op.84/5
Nocturnes Opp.33/1 & 3, 63, 104/1 & 119
Préludes, Op.103 2 & 7
Romance sans paroles, Op.17 1 & 3
Kun Woo Paik (piano)
Recorded 29-31 July 2001, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: October 2002
CD No: DECCA 470 246-2
Fauré is in every way an elusive composer. His pieces defy generic categorisation, deny any obvious sense of chronological development, and often seem to be quite arbitrarily named after the forms that Chopin popularised. A few Fauré pieces make perfect sense in a recital of French music; a disc entirely devoted to the composer always requires commitment from listener as well as performer. Despite the wash of sound, the transition between Romanticism and Impressionism that is the composer’s trademark, no disc of Fauré is ever ’easy listening’.
The Korean pianist Kun Woo Paik is equal to the challenge of making Fauré comprehensible. His programme is well chosen – leading the listener in with the Mendelssohnian and Chopinesque Romances without words and Nocturnes, then showing the range of Fauré’s pianism from the understated virtuosity of the Impromptu No.2 to the rich sonority of the First Barcarolle.
Paik is consistently musical, sensitive and technically adept. His playing is fluent and idiomatic; he is a worthy successor to Pascal Rogé on this label. Listen to Paik’s control and direction in the varied sections of the Nocturne No.6 (Op.63) or his ability to encapsulate very differing moods in the Improvisation. If he does not completely stamp his authority over the music that is only because Fauré himself resists complete comprehension. The performance of the Op.19 Ballade with which the disc concludes has more depth and subtlety that Decca’s recent offering from Naida Cole; the Préludes have a precision and discrimination which one may appropriately think of as almost Oriental.
Decca are to be congratulated on the recorded sound – the clarity and space here are perfect for what Jessica Duchen, in equally impressive programme notes, calls “the unique soundworld of Gabriel Fauré”. This CD, then, is an ideal introduction to Fauré’s piano music, but despite its beguiling qualities, do not think of it as a soft option. Deliberately or not, Fauré never wrote with the immediate sensuality of Ravel or Debussy; he will forever be a connoisseur’s composer, loved only by a minority, modesty turned into sound.