Thursday , June 13 2024
Lucas DeBargue at National Sawdust (photo credit: Jill Steinberg)
Lucas DeBargue at National Sawdust (photo credit: Jill Steinberg)

Music Review: Lucas Debargue – ‘Fauré: Complete Music for Solo Piano’

As he worked through the solo piano music of Gabriel Fauré (1825–1924), French pianist Lucas Debargue developed such an affinity for it that he decided just any piano wouldn’t do for a recording. So he chose the 102-key Opus 102, crafted by Steven Paulello, for his Sony Classical release of Fauré’s complete solo piano music.

Through four CDs Debargue wields this unique instrument to play the entire oeuvre in chronological order of composition. In the accompanying booklet the pianist describes each piece, putting it in helpful context.

Extra keys aside, the piano boasts exceptional clarity, especially in its upper and lower registers, each note explicit and distinct. Maybe this comes from differences in the harmonics; whatever the reason, it seems to allow a pianist to, for example, draw from the instrument a remarkable bell-like tone in the upper reaches.

While the instrument’s sound is crystalline and the recording pristine, Debargue’s written descriptions sometimes veer into the fanciful or synesthetic. But that’s no real criticism. This kind of music is an abstract medium—it exists beyond the reach of words. Which is precisely why we who write about music struggle to stay away from clichéd words and phrases or individuated appeals to the emotions.

Fortunately, the titles of the pieces slot them into familiar categories—impromptus, ballades, nocturnes, barcarolles aplenty, and others. In returning to these forms over his lengthy career Fauré gave us a kind of guide to tracking the development of his imagination and arsenal of techniques over the decades. Debargue’s consistently thoughtful interpretations make this comprehensive account invaluable and inspiring. Lovers of Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms will have their eyes opened.

So will those who know Fauré mostly through his chansons, or perhaps the Requiem and the ubiquitous “Pavane” (the latter most recently popularized in the TV show Only Murders in the Building).

Just listen to the smoky sparkle of the Impromptu No. 3, the gorgeous pathos of the Nocturne No. 4, or the elfin spirit, enlivened with drama, of the Valse-Caprice No. 2 and you’ll gather something of the deep reaches of this music, and of Debargue’s inspired interpretive approach. The romantic aspect of the music is baked in, no schmaltz needed or wanted.

Pianist Lucas Debargue
Lucas Debargue

As you absorb the entire set, the composer’s voice becomes readily recognizable wherever you alight. Some pieces strike with especial originality and power, like the wide-ranging Nocturne No. 6 and the furious Barcarolle No. 5. Debargue describes the mood of the latter as “poisonous.” Immediately following is the charming Barcarolle No. 6, which sets the opposite mood but doesn’t lack harmonic interest.

It’s on the fourth and final disc that we hear the apotheosis of Fauré’s music for solo piano, as he channeled and then transformed the Romantic tradition. Your can perceive this accomplishment in the stupendous chromatic ascensions of the Nocturne No. 10, the acute drama of the Prélude No. 1, the elegantly vaporous Barcarolle No. 11, even the simple pathos of Nocturne No. 11.

At the same time there is an innocence to some of the pieces on Disc 4, as if the composer were reconnecting with something he had had to spend a lifetime working to uncover.

Listening to all of this music means becoming thoroughly absorbed in the composer’s hungrily creative sensibility. Also, though, I found myself pulling back now and then to appreciate the sound of the Opus 102—and this pianist’s fusion with the instrument.

I’ve been following Debargue’s career for a few years now. His repertoire choices happen to align with particular likes of mine. But I admit I had no idea Fauré wrote this much piano music. Debargue’s accomplishment in recording all of it is nothing short of stunning. This collection is a journey through a brilliant and ever-elastic compositional mind, and a huge achievement for the pianist.

Fauré: Complete Music for Solo Piano is available now, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death, on streaming platforms and as a handsomely packaged four-CD set.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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