François-Frédéric Guy

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses – Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Piano Sonata in C, Op.53 (Waldstein)
Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor, Op.5

François-Frédéric Guy (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 November, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

François-Frédéric Guy. Photograph: Guy VivienFrançois-Frédéric Guy here revealed himself as poet and explorer in performances that were compelling and interesting if not always convincing. Guy commanded a wide dynamic range, notably when pianissimo and below, sometimes a great deal below, and with fortissimos that were never harsh, although his tendency to over-pedal thickened and blurred textures.

Guy’s discernment illuminated the Liszt opener: his limpid touch burgeoned Liszt’s meditation and with climaxes carrying an ecstatic quality. If the music itself, with its salon aspects and rippling figuration, doesn’t always seem to equate with the piece’s ambitions (and, at 20 minutes or so, it always seems rather too long), there was no doubt that Guy was thoroughly absorbed in this ‘journey and return’ and he signalled the ‘arrival’ with some especially memorable sepulchral-sounding chords.

The ‘Waldstein’ was decidedly curious if, again, individual and stimulating. With a soundworld akin to a velvet lining, Guy tended to soften the edges somewhat although his poise, as well as articulate and integrated tempos, paid dividends in the first movement. Notable was the very spacious tempo adopted for the second movement Adagio molto – here ‘molto’ was the watchword – hushed, expectant, solemn, but the hymn-like and recurring idea of the finale seemed rather verbose (fulsomely pedalled), while the coda, taken very fast, seeming disproportionately skittish.

Similar discrepancies illuminated or affected the Brahms, very much a searching account, with heroic and rarefied aspects vividly contrasted in the exposition (but less persuasive come the repeat) – and with a predilection of touch and colour that was maybe too calculated. Guy is a pianist who can conjure a grand flourish (such as the close of the outer movements) and he can also create the most delicate and ‘distant’ of ripostes – the Andante espressivo, spaciously conceived, was rapt and deeply sensitive, and, then, an inward trio contrasted with a sturdy scherzo. ‘Rückblick’ (reminiscence) was given with naked emotion. The finale was somewhat disjointed to begin with, but how wonderfully Guy ‘melted’ into the delicious second idea; after this he powerfully welded the sonata’s homecoming, although his dangerously fast tempo for the final passages wasn’t always successfully negotiated.

Like what he did or not, Guy’s individual assumption of these works was thought-provoking and refreshingly personal, and some of his ultra-quiet playing was mesmerising (if at times usurped by the creaking piano stool!). Guy’s single encore was ‘late’ Brahms, one of the Opus 116 Pieces, which returned the evening to a state of benediction as espoused by Liszt and, here, Beethoven.

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