The 13 Nocturnes
Charles Owen (piano)
Recorded 6, 7 & 9 February 2008 in Henry Wood Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2008
CD No: AVIE RECORDS
Duration: 80 minutes
Gabriel Fauré’s thirteen piano pieces called Nocturne cover the period from 1875 to 1921. It is instructive to have them collected together and played in chronological order. All have that essential Fauréian quality of elusiveness, but the journey across nearly 50 years of his creativity shows how Fauré’s palette developed from the somewhat Chopinesque to a very personal world indeed.
The pieces are varied – anything but soft and reflective (although many passages are) – and display Fauré’s character (“intensity, mood swings and tendency to depression” – from Jessica Duchen’s booklet note). The B major Nocturne, the second, has rather a demonic section that seems quiet troubled; and the A flat major (No.3) turns out to be not quite what the charming opening bars would suggest. The opening of No.4 (in E flat) is ravishing before being countered by more complex streams of musical thought and consciousness.
Charles Owen makes this recital complete in itself; it is a pleasure to undertake the journey with him. Nothing in Fauré (1845-1924) is predictable. Yes, his musical refinement and fluidity identifies his French nationality; but the harmonies are enigmatic (if closely observed in an almost-secret sense). Many beauties abound, so too a sense that the man and his most innermost (and tortured) thoughts (his hearing became impaired) is sustained in the music but always in the most cultivated way.
This is music with much to say and intrigue; many emotions are present. As 1908 is reached, let alone the soon-to-be conflict of World War I and its aftermath), the music takes on a dark, bitter and enigmatic flavour, both as to what is being expressed and the ever-more-intangible development of Fauré’s musical thought. His is not experimental (each piece is in a key) but searches-out – often profoundly and heart-breaking – something concealed yet outreaching, too. We are privy to Fauré’s secrets.
Each piece is fascinating and compelling. Charles Owen is a very sensitive player; he is able to get inside Fauré’s complex persona and musical world (this is essentially beautiful and passionate music – but not obviously so) and he is not afraid to bring emotional identity to it – but without trumping Fauré’s private autobiography. Moreover, the recording is immediate enough to reveal the many strands of Fauré’s musical composition while enjoying enough space for climaxes to expand and for the fragile intimacy of the pieces to not be spot-lit. All in all, an outstanding release.