Pierre-Laurent Aimard Night Fantasies

Gesänge der Frühe, Op.133
Night Fantasies
Catalogue d’oiseaux – L’alouette lulu
Out of Doors

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 21 July, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

This was the first of the eight Proms Chamber Music recitals for this season – given once again in the acoustically welcoming (if access-unfriendly!) environment of Cadogan Hall.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Photograph: Guy VivianPierre-Laurent Aimard, making his second but not last Proms appearance this season, opened a well-planned recital with Gesänge der Frühe (1853) – Schumann’s final set of piano pieces. On the cusp between the ethereal and the remote, these five miniatures might conceivably be variations on an unstated theme – such is their unforced thematic unity and lucid formal balance; both qualities being amply in evidence throughout Aimard’s undemonstrative but always insightful interpretation.

Elliott CarterAlthough the aesthetic of Elliott Carter’s Night Fantasies (1980) might seem to be world’s apart, the composer has spoken of Schumann’s piano music (specifically Kreisleriana) as being his creative point of departure. Such, indeed, is the elliptical continuity of this music – elusive and capricious by turns – that the conveying of an overall continuity is surely even greater than its technical demands (the work having been written with Paul Jacobs, Ursula Oppens, Charles Rosen and David Tudor in mind); not that Aimard was wanting on either count. In particular, the final minutes witnessed a channelling of motivic cross-currents towards a climax which – as in that of a somnolent state – cannot by definition occur, though its imagining was not the least achievement of this riveting performance.

Having honoured Carter in his centenary year, Aimard proceeded to commemorate Messiaen (born just a day earlier). ‘L’alouette lulu is among the most compact of the Frenchman’s vast Catalogue d’oiseaux (from the mid-1950s), with the heady interaction between contrasting birdcalls similarly among its most affecting. Aimard played it with an almost wistful poise and a lightness of touch that was no less appropriate.

Time was when Aimard tended to approach Bartók’s Out of Doors (1926) as a means of technical prowess, though there was no evidence of this during the present performance. Thus the incisiveness of ‘Pipes and Drums’ was as vividly realised as the eddying restlessness of ‘Barcarolle’ or the drone-suffused animation of ‘Musette’. The atmospheric ‘Night Music’ cast a suitably mesmeric spell with its dynamics and phrasing so exquisitely nuanced; then ‘The Chase’ brought forth coruscating virtuosity to close this suite and the recital in thrilling style.

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