Jeux d’enfants, Op.22 [selections]*
Nocturne in E flat minor, Op.33/1
Gnossienne 2 & 5; Gymnopédie 1
Pièces romantiques [selections]*
Pas redoublé, Op.86*
Ballade (Slave); Suite bergamasque – Clair de lune; Petite Suite*
Pascal Rogé (piano); Pascal & Ami Rogé (piano/four hands)*
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 10 June, 2010
Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, London
It was a pleasure to have a whole evening devoted to French piano music, much of it for four hands and some of it quite rarely performed. Pascal Rogé is unquestionably a doyen of this repertoire. However, at the risk of looking a gift-horse in the mouth, four suites of short pieces for piano-duet on one programme may have been rather too much of a good thing, even when interspersed with several works for solo piano, repertoire that reflects his currently new releases on Onyx – “Poètes du Piano” (Onyx 4057) and, with his wife Ami, “Wedding Cake” (4047).
Bizet’s gently affecting Jeux d’enfants is well-known from its later orchestral version which includes five numbers. There are twelve miniatures in all of which six were played here, two of which – ‘L’escarpolette’ (The Swing) and ‘Les chevaux de bois’ (The Merry-go-Round) – do not figure in the orchestral suite. Pascal Rogé and his wife Ami (here taking the upper part) brought an innocent charm to this unpretentious music.
The first of Fauré’s thirteen Nocturnes dates from 1875 and brings echoes of a Chopin Prelude in its opening section as well as Schumann’s Fantasy in the more agitated central episode. Pascal Rogé brought an understated – and under-pedalled – Gallic elegance to this music, sustaining the line effortlessly. Demi-sec maybe but – like a great film actor whose eyes force the camera to watch their minutest gesture – Rogé achieved the maximum result with the minimum of fuss.
Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 is amongst the best known of music, the Gnossiennes rather less so (their title almost certainly derives from the Palace of Knossos in Crete). Rogé made the best possible case for this calm, hieratic music, bringing to it the utmost concentration. The second Gnossienne, hypnotic and with the right-hand soaring and swooping like a bird in flight, was especially memorable.
More music from childhood with Fauré’s Dolly, dedicated to the daughter of Emma Bardac who had been Fauré’s mistress before she married Debussy. As with Jeux d’enfants, the suite is at least as well-known in its orchestral version. Here the Rogés reversed roles with Pascal taking the upper part. Perhaps the opening ‘Berceuse’ was too forward-moving for its full magic to emerge but thereafter all was well, emotion recollected in tranquillity in ‘Le jardin de Dolly’ and with an elegant, airy insouciance to the final glittering ‘pas espagnol’.
Cécile Chaminade’s Pièces Romantiques is a real rarity and a welcome addition to the four-hand repertoire. They include titles such as ‘Primavera’ – almost a continuation of the atmosphere of Dolly – ‘Idylle Arabe’ and a concluding ‘Rigaudon’. However, the juxtaposition with Fauré was less than flattering and explains precisely why Chaminade’s music is now largely forgotten whereas Fauré’s continues to touch the heart-strings, Chaminade merely elegant whereas Fauré – for all his restraint – invariably hints at deeper emotion. Nobody could accuse Saint-Saëns’s Pas redoublé of hinting at deeper feelings. This is unashamedly a showpiece and a jeu d’esprit, here despatched with aplomb.
Finally we reached Debussy. First there were two works for solo piano, his early Ballade (originally named Ballade slave) and Clair de lune, arguably the most famous of all his works, before more four-handed music with the original version of Petite Suite. Ballade evolves from a single melodic kernel and spins a web of the finest gossamer. Clair de lune was full of that wonder that a great musician can bring to even the most-familiar music and Petite Suite (later orchestrated by Henri Busser) introduced a welcome degree of volatility and playful legerdemain as though one were eavesdropping on a relaxed family occasion, which in a sense we were.
With the serious business out the way the Rogés treated us to an encore, Souvenir de Bayreuth, Fauré and Messager’s hilarious take on Wagner’s “Ring” cycle composed after they had visited Bayreuth – ‘wicked’, and also wickedly funny.