album_coverLucas Debargue: Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt Ravel (Sony)

Escape all the noise and fall out of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership wrangling with this exquisite debut disc by Lucas Debargue, the young French pianist who came fourth in the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 2015.

Weightless elegant Scarlatti opens this album which was recorded live at the Salle Cortot in Paris, Debargue’s first concert in his hometown after the competition. His sense of pacing, evident in the Scarlatti sonatas, really comes to the fore in his reading of Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, where he balances delicacy and poetry with drama to create a performance which is both intimate and expansive. The real impact comes when he holds the music in suspense: it feels natural and unpretentious. His performance of Gaspard de la Nuit, the work for which he received much enthusiastic acclaim during the competition, is equally impressive. His clarity of touch and tone combined with that wondrous pacing brings a silky sensuality to ‘Ondine”s watery arabesques while ‘Scarbo’ is less grotesque, more puckish and playful, though no less dark for it. In between these movements, ‘Le Gibet’ is seven minutes of restrained desolation. His Liszt is a proper waltz instead of the headlong frenzy some pianists give to this work. The Grieg is like an encore, a calming salve after Liszt’s twirling rhyhms. The Schubert is as intimate as you like, as if Debargue is playing just for you – and playful too, reminding us that Schubert was a composer of dances and Ländler. And in a neat piece of programming the album closes with Debargue’s variation on the Scarlatti Sonata in A which opens the album.

At the Tchaikovsky Competition, the Moscow Music Critics Association awarded him their prize for “the pianist whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience”, and his debut disc demonstrates these attributes in spades.

Highly recommended.

Lucas Debargue’s performances at the Tchaikovsky Competition are still available to view on the Medici TV site

If you would like to contribute a review to ‘If You Listen to One Thing This Week….’ please contact me here

One of the nicest aspects of my blogging and reviewing is that it has put me in touch with a network of interesting musical people – musicians, journalists and writers, promoters, and classical music enthusiasts – and has enabled me to enjoy music in a variety of different venues and settings.

My latest musical outing was an invitation to a run through of Promenade à Gaspard, a new “mixed genre” production featuring piano music by Liszt, Ravel & Mussorgsky, accompanied by readings and illustrated with pictures. The pianist was Anthony Hewitt, the reader actress Susan Porrett, who is involved in a similar concert concept, Divine Fire, which examines the relationship between Chopin and Sand through music and readings. The concert took place in an elegant town house with views across the river at Barnes, a setting which provided an enjoyable intimacy and informality to the evening’s entertainment, and was particularly appropriate for the Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs.

Anthony Hewitt, pianist

After champagne, general introductions and socialising, we were ushered upstairs to the host’s spacious piano room. Despite the fact that the event was billed as an “informal first try out”, there was nothing unrehearsed about Tony’s playing which was colourful, committed and convincing throughout (he later admitted that this was the first time he had played Pictures At An Exhibition through as a complete work, though one would never have guessed from his expert reading of this monumental work).

Susan Porrett, actress

The first half opened with a handful of Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs (Ständchen von Shakespeare, Die Forelle, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Auf dem Wasser zu singen and Der Erlkönig), each preceded by a reading of Goethe’s text which inspired the song. It was really interesting to be given additional visual cues from the poetry, as well as the pictures created in the music itself (in Tony’s hands, Schubert’s eponymous trout was lively and playful), and one could carry an image from the readings throughout the musical performance. Words and music complemented one another extremely well in these short pieces, bringing the music to life in new ways.

Ravel’s famously difficult Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. Once again, each movement was preceded by a reading from the poem by Susan Porrett. This combined with Tony’s dramatic and virtuosic playing brought Ravel’s music to life to great effect, the words shining a new angle on the music while we listened.

After a short interval, Mussorgsky’s Pictures At an Exhibition took centre stage, and Susan’s introductory reading described the pictures which Mussorgsky sought to portray in his score. The music is extremely “visual” in its own right, Mussorgsky painting contrasting images with the use of recurring motifs, textures, and tempo, and he took inspiration directly from pictures by his friend Viktor Hartmann. In this production, the pictures will be projected behind the pianist, changing as the movements of the music progress. My only worry about this is that the pictures should not distract the listener from the music, and therefore need to segue slowly from one to another. This was a fine performance, even more impressive for being only a few feet away from the pianist, allowing a special insight into just how technically demanding this work is to play.

I enjoyed the evening very much and look forward to seeing Promenade à Gaspard again when the format has been tweaked and refined for public performance.

For information about this, and other similar concert concepts, please go to

www.sevenstarconcerts.com

Divine Fire, performed by Viv Maclean and Susan Porrett, is at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday 3rd August. Further details and tickets here

www.anthonyhewitt.co.uk