DEBUSSY Études MESSIAEN Fauvettes de l’Hérault (Roger Muraro)
The warm and mellifluous sound enveloping Javier Perianes’s coupling of Préludes Book 1 and Estampes is much in keeping with the composer’s ‘piano without hammers’ paradigm, as well as the pianist’s penchant for sensitive nuances. Notice, for example, the refined dynamic gradations in ‘Danseuses de Delphes’, along with Perianes’s expressively gratuitous ritards at phrase endings. If the billowy ambience of ‘Voiles’ seems to just hang there, the rapid ostinatos in ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ are bracingly even and controlled. No 4 is a tad sedate for my taste, and lacks the profile and rhythmic backbone heard from Paul Jacobs and Steven Osborne. And some listeners will find Perianes’s sombre deliberation in No 6 more convincing than I do.
Perianes unleashes No 7’s turbulent waves of arpeggios with little help from the sustain pedal, while precisely scaling the dynamics and accents so as not to overbuild: an unorthodox approach, to be sure, yet ultimately convincing. No 8’s flaxen-haired girl makes an understated impact, while No 9’s repeated notes descend with supple lilt and lightness of being. While more intense and divergently balanced versions of ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ exist, Perianes’s reading is shapely and impeccably paced. For all the control of ‘La danse de Puck’, Perianes underplays its harmonic surprises; but his slightly arch teasing of the melodic line brings out the quirky cakewalking character in ‘Minstrels’.
In Estampes, Perianes generally goes for allure and suggestion, sometimes to the music’s disadvantage, His soft-grained blending of left-hand chords against right-hand runs in the section of ‘Pagodes’ marked sans lenteur is opposed to Debussy’s dans une sonorité plus claire request. By contrast, Sviatoslav Richter brings this passage’s gamelan-inspired polyphony into far bolder relief. And compared to the lithe animation of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in ‘Jardins sous la pluie’, Perianes runs on cruise control, so to speak. But his curvaceous ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ is right on target, and what impressive independence between the hands.
For the most part, Roger Muraro’s attention to detail puts a fresh spin on Debussy’s Études. He takes No 1’s introductory Czerny-scale pastiche briskly and brusquely, while characterising the main section’s sudden rubato measures as abrupt interruptions. He keeps No 2’s legato thirds resolutely yet flexibly moderato, while distinctions between sustained and detached articulation in No 3 have rarely been so well articulated. Also notice how Muraro reins in the repeated sixths in No 4’s poco agitato sequences so that they don’t get too loud too soon.
In the waltzing lilt of No 5, some may prefer a tighter leash on the basic pulse, but Muraro’s full-bodied staccato playing grabs your ear. Despite Uchida’s élan and surface sheen in No 6, Muraro’s slower tempo gives Debussy’s dynamic hairpins and articulation markings their due. Inspiration sags in No 7, leaving Uchida and Bavouzet to capture the étude’s scherzando sparkle. Muraro’s similarly low-key No 8, however, allows the composer’s rich harmonies and resonant overtones to truly sink in, although his repeated notes in No 9 don’t match his aforementioned colleagues’ incisiveness. Muraro’s mature mastery reveals itself throughout No 10, particularly in the sustained calm of the cross-handed chord sequence starting at bar 15 and the careful gauging of the Sempre animando’s climax. He builds No 11 from the bottom up, bringing bass lines and melodic up beats to the fore. The pianist also takes the diminuendo and staccato markings of No 12’s octave leaps seriously and uncovers hidden melodies few others notice.
The three-movement Messiaen work represents Muraro’s 2017 solo piano reconstruction of what was originally planned as a concerto. A looming deadline compelled Messaien to scale down the project and rework his ideas for what would become the Sept Haïkaï for piano and small ensemble. Most of the material is based on birdsong that Messiaen notated during a 1958 visit to the Hérault region of southern France. Not surprisingly, the music’s florid asymmetry, rapid chordal flights and rapid-fire contrasts between lyrical repose and fiery virtuosity relate to the sound world and time-scale presented in Catalogue d’oiseaux. Muraro’s assured and fervent immersion in Messiaen’s idiom is not a surprise, given his long and distinctive history with the composer’s keyboard output in concert and on disc.
In sum, both CDs offer much stimulating listening, reservations notwithstanding.