Pascal Rogé in Australia – Fauré, Satie, Ravel, Poulenc & Debussy

Nocturne No.1 in E flat minor, Op.33/1
Six Gnossiennes – Nos.3 & 5; Trois Gymnopédies – No.1
Trois Pièces
Préludes – Book I

Pascal Rogé (piano)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 8 June, 2008
Venue: Octagon Theatre, University of Western Australia, Perth

Pascal Rogé. ©Mary RobertPascal Rogé is a regular visitor to Australia; this was his second trip to these shores in as many months. His all-French recital was part of the University of Western Australia’s “KeyedUp!” series, the first of which, featuring Piers Lane, I unfortunately missed (it was, by all accounts, sensational).

It goes without saying that Rogé is a master of the French piano repertoire, or indeed any other French music involving the piano – vocal, chamber or orchestral. Indeed, his approach to the keyboard is ultimately informed by the textures and timbres of other instruments; Rogé is essentially a colourist, eschewing virtuosic display in favour of nuance and suggestion. Of course, this can often result in less than incisive playing. But the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages – as was the case here.

Rogé insisted on no applause until the end of each half; he also played with no pauses between pieces. The effect was twofold: to hear better the correspondences and contrasts; and to avoid any shattering of an atmosphere that, once established, allowed the listener to forget utterly the existence of the outside world.

The recital began with Fauré’s E flat minor Nocturne, Rogé immediately conjuring up the great composer of melodie, such were the pianist’s singing tone and ability to project darker undercurrents. The second and fifth of Satie’s Gnossiennes followed, Rogé here introducing a freer, more improvisatory quality in the right-hand that admitted of a sweet tension that was subtly dissipated by the same composer’s first Gymnopédie.

Rogé’s account of Ravel’s Sonatine was, by contrast, more poised and rigorous, though not without flexibility and awareness of agogics that recalled the world of 17th- and 18th-century harpsichordists as readily as does the work itself. The excitement and virtuosity of the Animé under Rogé’s fingers also prepared the listener for the Toccata in Poulenc’s Trois Pièces, each of which, in turn, offered an almost comic contrast between the cabaret song and the melodie of Fauré.

The second half of the recital was given over to Debussy’s First Book of Preludes. All the preceding traits found in Rogé’s playing were again here in abundance, as well as some even more masterly pedalling and precise voicing of chords. This was pianist as both orchestrator and storyteller.

Beginning gracefully with ‘Danseuses de Delphes’ and ending with the boisterous ‘Minstrels’, Rogé opened-up huge vistas of light and colour. The mysterious thirds of ‘Voiles’ flowed effortlessly into the swirling sextuplets of ‘Le vent dans la plaine’, while a super-refined ‘Des pas sur la neige’ melted before Rogé’s searing virtuosity in ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’.

Taken as a set, ‘La sérénade interrompue’, ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ and ‘La danse de Puck’ gave rise to all sorts of images, thanks to Rogé’s ability to tell a story in music. The nervous energy and frequent spurts of notes in the outer two works also provided a superb counterpoint to the serene majesty of the middle one – this was Debussy’s Profondément calme dans une brume doucement sonore to the letter.

Rogé offered a, perhaps predictable, encore, ‘Clair de lune’ (from Suite bergamasque), thus bringing to an end a wholly satisfying evening of French piano music, played by one of its greatest exponents.

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