Café au lait
As the title indicates, there is nothing here in the nature of a bifteck, so perhaps it’s not a disc to be heard all in one go. But that’s my only reservation. Most of the pieces have, as the booklet says, served as Paris Conservatoire test pieces at one time or another and as a result we are treated to those qualities the examiners looked for: virtuosity, of course, but also – perhaps even more – a command of legato and a sensitivity to mood and character.
Sharon Bezaly was a pupil of Alain Marion, himself a pupil of Rampal. Most of the pieces she has chosen also belong in various senses to the French tradition, even if tenuously – Griffes’s Poem, written in New York, was dedicated to Georges Barrère, a pupil of Taffanel and the soloist in the first performance of L’après-midi d’un faune – and she plays them all with tremendous style and obvious affection. Her tone is clean and pure with no hint of vibrato, her phrasing intelligent and her dynamic range quite wide enough for this predominantly angst-free repertoire.
Only one item is new to the current catalogue, the Mélodie by Emile Noblot, a composer unknown to me. But various others are on the edge of novelty, most notably Rhené-Baton’s Passacaille, a delightful piece by a man known rather as one of the most reliable Parisian conductors of the 1920s and ’30s; he could be a composer worth investigating further. Not all the pieces are up to this standard, and I have to say it was a slight relief to reach Fauré’s Sicilienne and finally his Fantaisie. But Bezaly is a fine player, no question about that, and Pöntinen gives her unfailingly musical support, as always. Balance between the two is excellent.