Notes and Editorial Reviews
Already established as one of today’s most individual and thoughtful pianists, Alexandre Tharaud makes his debut on Virgin Classics with this collection of pieces by Chopin, ‘Journal intime’ (Private diary). Each of the chosen pieces – mazurkas, nocturnes, ballades, the famous Fantaisie-impromptu and a number of other, lesser-known works – has a special importance or association for Tharaud, who cites the pianism of Vlado Perlemuter and Sergey Rachmaninov as a particular influence in the music of Chopin.
Many of these pieces have been in Tharaud’s repertoire since his student days: “I let time work for me. It is extraordinarily enriching to study a work when you are young and then revisit it in the course of your life. It
becomes part of you.”
Tharaud, born in Paris in 1968, takes a discerning approach to repertoire, highlighting and often juxtaposing composers such as Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Chabrier, Satie, Ravel, Poulenc and Thierry Pécou (b.1965).
Alexandre Tharaud’s personal text
Why this private diary…
My life has been mapped out by Chopin; more than any other composer, he has accompanied me at every stage. Some of his works take me back ineluctably to a particular event or meeting, and I wanted to put them all together in a single programme, like an album of personal memories.
What was your first encounter with this music?
When I was four I was not allowed to touch the family record-player, but I would ask my parents to put on the LPs of Samson François and Tamás Vásáry – so my first Chopin had dash and dazzle. I also took in the coarse, hammered-out Chopin of Mireille, the old lady pianist who played for my mother’s dancing-classes, to which I went every week. I adored Mireille – she introduced me to a fair number of composers – but I really have to say she massacred Chopin, to the extent of adding a beat to his waltzes, making them waltzes in 4/4 time. I was lulled to sleep by the Écossaises and the Op. 9 Nocturne played by her quirky fingers.
How did you first come to play Chopin?
Right from my first years on the piano, Carmen Taccon-Devenat, a teacher of genius, readily understood that I “needed” Chopin to give me pleasure. Straight away she introduced me to that little gem the Contredanse, which has so seldom been recorded, then to some mazurkas, waltzes and études. Some years later came the Fantaisie-Impromptu, a showy piece but not beyond a child’s hands, which I played all the time, to whoever would listen. She was by my side at each of these discoveries, a twinkle in the corner of her eye, her hand on my arm to stop me from racing away. For her, Chopin had to speak: “Tone above all!” We put words or syllables to each note. I have never forgotten what she taught me.
And at the conservatoire?
The piano was the secret garden of my adolescence, and it was through Chopin that I gave myself up to it. The second Ballade is indissolubly linked with my entry into the Conservatoire National. On the day of the audition, Carmen Taccon-Devenat and I were in panic, my hands trembling in hers as I waited my turn outside the room. We had spent a month at her house in the country, working intensively to prepare ourselves for this moment.
At the Conservatoire the Fantaisie was my party-piece. I dreamt of the first Ballade, and I would have given anything to play it, but it was consistently denied me. The years passed and I ended up being convinced we were not made for one another. I was twenty before I got my hands on it. And then I pounced on it!
What about the other pieces in this album?
These pieces remind me of certain rather private moments in my life, of people I have loved or friends I have lost. Once, at the funeral of a close friend, I heard a terrific funeral march on the organ; much later, I was amazed to learn that it was from the Largo in C minor, a practically unknown piece, written originally for piano. The Mazurkas, Op.17 No.4, Op.7 No.2 and Op. 63 No.3, and the Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth., take me back to Warsaw, Montreal, Munich and Senigallia…
How did the recording go?
Cécile Lenoir and I chose a Steinway piano with a clear tone, and a warm, ample recording which gave a sense of the hall, to approximate as closely as possible to a concert ambience. We opted for a generous, natural reverberation.
In the course of recording, the personal memories to which each of these pieces is linked came to the forefront, blending together and completely suffusing me. In a way, they became the real performers of this “Private Diary”…
Works on This Recording
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