Once upon a time before recitals became all too serious, pianists would finish their programs with an encore, or two, or three. Or maybe ten, if the pianist felt generous that night. Encores usually consisted of short, mostly recognizable pieces characterized by ear-tickling virtuosity or heart-melting sentiment. Over time, certain encores and artists became joined at the hip, so to speak. For example, audiences refused to budge until Myra Hess played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, or Vladimir Horowitz eased into his signature Schumann “Traumerei”. Although encores usually seemed effortless and tossed off, the best pianists always lavished lots of time polishing and perfecting these babies. And soRead more it is with the 23 encores Alexandre Tharaud has selected for this newest Erato/Warner Classics release titled Autograph.
Not only does he imbue each piece with a specific and individual character or sound world, but he also orders them into a unified, well-contrasted entity that you can listen to without ever feeling overly sated. More importantly, Tharaud’s attention to detail, voicing, and timing allows each piece to emerge as if newly minted rather than old hat.
The unusually brisk pace he chooses for Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen liberates this music from too many memories of heavy-handed performances, while Chopin’s Minute Waltz takes some delightful curves and dips on the dance floor. The Gluck/Siloti Dance of the Blessed Spirits evokes many a Romantic-era piano legend for three-dimensional melody/accompaniment separation, although I prefer the better-known Sgambati transcription’s leaner, airier keyboard deployment. If Tharaud doesn’t best Martha Argerich’s repeated-note speed record in the K. 141 Scarlatti sonata, he nails the ornaments in Rameau’s Les Sauvages with arguably more rhythmic exactitude and swagger than in his earlier Harmonia Mundi recording.
Then there’s that delightfully Poulenc-ish Tourbillon by Oscar Strasnoy alongside an authentic Poulenc minor masterpiece, Mélancolie, while Tharaud shows off his impressive transcribing chops in the Adagietto from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne and the Andante from the Bach/Vivaldi Concerto BWV 979. The booklet notes include an insightful interview with Tharaud, plus an interesting essay that discusses the art of the encore in its historical context. This is an absolutely enchanting, beautifully engineered disc, and not just for piano fans.
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