Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata in e?.
La Plainte, au loin, du Faune….Variations, Interlude, et Finale sur un theme de Rameau. Prélude élégiaque sur le nom de Haydn
Laurent Wagschal (pn)
TIMPANI 1211 (67:12)
Paul Dukas (1865–1935) is best remembered today for his 1897 tone poem
(The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) based on Goethe’s 1797 poem
. How wonderful would it be to pronounce that there is a huge body of music of the same musical quality as that work waiting for someone to rediscover it? Sadly, there is just a small amount, as Dukas was highly critical of his output and destroyed many of those works which he thought unworthy. On the positive side, what we do have is of such fine craftsmanship and high musical worth that any release does something to bring it out of its undeserved obscurity: The piano works performed here—his complete
for the solo instrument, lasting just a bit over an hour—are at the top of that list, along with his other major works, the fanfare to and ballet
, his opera
Ariane et Barbe-Bleue
using Maeterlinck’s libretto originally intended for Edvard Grieg, and the magnificent Symphony in C.
The largest work on the recital here is the E?-Minor Sonata. It is a serious work in tone, though not so serious, I believe, as people have made of it. Dukas was still a French composer, one who espoused a lightness of touch, a love of counterpoint, a particularly satisfying and sensual harmonic language inherited from composers such as Franck and Debussy, and a clarity of both form and texture. Though history has been unkind to this “French Hammerklavier” in concert—no doubt owing to its enormous length and difficulty, though not only—it has made a few appearances on disc, and perhaps not better than here. Laurent Waschal is a name I know from his recording of the Emmanuel
s, and here his lighter touch, keen sense of phrasing, judged particularly beautifully in the concluding movement, attention to voicing, and his wonderful sense of line all add to the charm of this neglected masterpiece. Though climaxes are a bit downplayed and his staccato is not as crisp as I would like, particularly in the third scherzo-like movement, his overall sense of buildup, and relationship of one section to the next, all make this 40-minute work feel much shorter than it actually is. The other large work, the
Variations, Interlude, et Finale
, is also brilliantly played. Again the pianist’s light touch works wonders here. If I had to critique this pianist on one aspect, though, it would be his too serious way with this work. Serious is the second variation or the interlude, but where is the whimsy in the ninth variation or more importantly in the Finale? One should slyly smirk when listening to these. Wagschal plays particularly well in the two shorter, though no less musically important or interesting works.
La Plainte, au loin, du Faune
…, using the main theme from Debussy’s
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
, is a piece written in homage to that recently deceased composer in 1920 as part of a collection of pieces, including ones by Bartók, Ravel, Roussel, Stravinsky, and Falla. Its harmonically vague and improvisatory feeling is captured perfectly by Wagschal. The
, written in remembrance of Haydn in the bicentennial of that composer’s birth, in 1909, is serious in tone, comprised of slow moving chords with lighter flourishes of notes throughout. Here the pianist plays respectfully—the tone of the work—and movingly. The serious quality of his playing is perfectly suited for this music.
So does one need this? Yes, especially if one does not know this music. There are other recordings to choose from besides this one: Marc-André Hamelin’s recording of the Sonata is equally brilliant. His sense of climax is palpable, though his tempos at times are just a bit too fast for my taste. He also forgoes the rest of Dukas’s music for that of Abel Decaux. Years ago I heard Jean François Heisser’s version of the Sonata and fell immediately for it—well judged tempos, a beautiful lyricism, a bit of the heroic—though it is nearly impossible to find any longer. That said, Wagschal is no slouch; his playing is sensitive and well nuanced, his voicings are pristine, his pauses between phrases and transitions between sections are all well judged. More than that, he brings this music to life, even if he rarely stops to smile. So even with my quibbles, this is a release to savor.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Works on This Recording
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