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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune(1892-1894) [9:02]
Fêtes, transcr. Maurice Ravel (1908) [5 :49]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma Mère l’Oye (1908-10) [13:18]
Rapsodie Espagnole (1907) [16:28]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer arr. Pascal & Ami Rogé (1903) [23:35]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Scherzo op.87 (1889) [10:12]
Pascal Rogé and Ami Rogé (pianos)
rec. March 2011, Salle de Musique, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
ONYX 4117 [79:08]

Since its formation in 2005, Onyx has assembled a formidable roster of artists, some of whom, it seems, were no longer needed by major labels. One such is Pascal Rogé who has been a distinguished figure in the French piano music scene for decades. He seems, in a sense, to have come round again with a recent and very well received complete recording of Debussy’s piano music for Onyx.
 
On this highly-recommendable disc, he is joined by his wife (since 2009) Ami in versions for two pianos of major works by Debussy; the composer himself prepared the reduction of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, while the performers have arranged La Mer. As was normal for Ravel, the piano versions came first, the Rapsodie Espagnole being for two pianos, and the Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) for piano four-hands.
 
Almost as a bonus, there is also Saint-Saëns’s Scherzo Op.87 which he composed when in a depressed state following the death of his mother, though you would hardly know it from the sparkling opening, realised here with considerable élan. While there are quiet moments with contrapuntal touches, Saint-Saëns’s frisky pianistic invention keeps the sun out for the most part. There are suggestions of Debussy and Chabrier, not to mention an Offenbachian galop at the end. It’s an interesting find and delightfully played here.
 
We ask straightaway with the Debussy transcriptions, why bother with a recording at all? Right at the start of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, you do miss the seductive timbre and legato quality of the flute melody but the loss is really in accompaniments like the tremolando strings at a minute in; the effect of replacing them with bass piano rumblings is to lose the mystery. Would Debussy have written it that way if intending a piano piece? Something else troubling me; I haven’t gone through the score bar by bar but what has happened to the harp arpeggios after the initial statement of the theme at about 35 seconds in? They are played in the video at Vimeo by Cassard and Chaplin. My reservations are compounded by the very clarity of the pianism, beautiful - and Debussy-esque - as it is. A legato quality is essential to the lusciously erotic effect of this music.
 
La Mer fares much better. The more robust quality of the music can take the essentially non-legato treatment provided by the pianos, though once again, the tremolandi at the start of Jeux de Vagues are a poor substitute for the strings - you might argue that, as a rule, the piano is generally good for watery effects. Again, the playing is superlative and I would certainly listen again to this version.
 
Ravel in Spanish mode works very well for the two-piano combination. The rhythms of Malagueña and Habañera are crisply articulated. Feria is a suitably joyful affair, the opening of which loses nothing from the absence of orchestral timbres.
 
Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye is the one piece on this disc that is likely to find its way on to the amateur musician’s piano; the orchestral form with its two extra movements is really a different entity. For me, the lovely performance given here is the high point of the CD, the affecting combination of melancholy and playfulness superbly brought across. Contrast, for example, the crystalline clarity of Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes and the comforting opening chords of Le jardin féerique. This is a version of one of the high points of the piano duet repertoire that I would be happy to live with.
 
It is interesting to have the Debussy arrangements but I would happily have this CD on account of the Ravel pieces, not forgetting the Saint-Saëns.
 
Roger Blackburn
 




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