Gabriel PIERNÉ
Variations en ut mineur Op.42 (1918) [25:42]
Etude de concert Op.13 (1887) [4:08]
Trois pièces formant suite de concert Op.40 (1903) [20:33]
Passacaille Op.52 (1932) [10:54]
Laurent Wagschal (piano)
rec. Coeur de Ville, Vincennes, 28-30 December 2009
TIMPANI 1C1178 [61:41]

Pierné was a most distinguished composer whose varied and often substantial oeuvre is now being re-appraised. This is mainly thanks to Timpani’s recordings. He was a pupil of Marmontel and even envisaged a career as concert pianist. As might thus be expected he composed a good deal of piano music although the bulk of it was written before 1900. His mature output for the piano is quantitatively limited. On the other hand it is far from negligible in musical quality as may be gathered from this release. All works, but one, date from his mature years.

The earliest work here – and the only one that may be related to his initial output for piano – is the brilliant Etude de concert Op.13. It was composed in 1887 at the time when he was still contemplating a career as a performing artist. As may be expected, this is a highly virtuosic piece, albeit one full of nice subtleties.

When listening to the Trois pièces formant suite de concert Op.40 one may evaluate the considerable progress that he made over the intervening years. In this substantial work Pierné proves himself closer to many of his contemporaries. The music is still quite brilliant and virtuosic but also calls for deeper musicality. It may be both interesting and teasing to know that this significant work is the sole remnant of a large-scale project cherished by Pierné. Sadly it was left incomplete partly because of the composer’s involvement as a conductor. The three movements are neatly characterised and do not share any common material. Each one has its own characteristic so that the whole forms a hugely varied triptych. The first movement Preludio e fughetta clearly harks back to French keyboard music of the 18th century. The second, Nocturne en forme de valse is definitely more akin to music from the early 20th century. The suite is then capped by a glittering Etude symphonique, another brilliant piece of piano writing paving way towards Pierné’s unquestionable masterpiece for piano, the Variations en ut mineur Op.42. This is an ambitious piece displaying formal and technical mastery to the full. The composer’s imagination seems limitless and the music unfolds almost effortlessly through a series of contrasting episodes eventually capped by a brilliant coda. In many respects Pierné’s Variations may be compared to that other large-scale masterpiece of piano music: the Dukas Variations, interlude et finale sur un thème de Rameau composed some ten years earlier.

Pierné’s last piano work is the imposing Passacaille Op.52 composed in 1932. Pierné’s imagination and technical assurance is again much in evidence in what is – in some ways – another set of variations.

As a composer Pierné remained faithful to a number of values inherited from some of his teachers such as Franck and Massenet. Nevertheless he found his own way to break away from a rigid musical education. His music in fact displays a most refreshing quest for renewal without ever trying to be revolutionary.

Laurent Wagschal has already demonstrated his liking of and affinity for French music. Here again his deep empathy for the music and his superb technique and musicality pay high dividends. He obviously loves the music and plays it with assurance and conviction that I find hard to resist.

This beautifully produced released is another feather in Timpani’s cap and brings Pierné’s beautifully crafted music to wider exposure. It is too fine to be ignored.

Hubert Culot

A very fine survey of Pierné’s mature output for piano.