Arthur Ancelle plays Chopin & Dutilleux
Recordings of Dutilleux’s early, substantial and rather difficult First Piano Sonata are no longer rare events, especially in his 2016 centenary. Here are two solid, masterful and divergent interpretations of the sonata and the Trois Préludes. Jonas Vitaud positions each prelude within an all-Liszt group. Arthur Ancelle places the Préludes together in sequence, and prefaces the sonata with Chopin’s four Ballades.
Ancelle’s dapper and debonair way with Dutilleux’s first movement brings out the music’s wry rhythmic displacements, dry point staccatos and animated surface elegance. Vitaud, by contrast, is more of a dramatist, ready to underscore piquant melodies and sudden mood shifts with rubato emphasis.
In the central Lied, Ancelle’s tempo is closer to Dutilleux’s metronome marking than Vitaud’s slower rendition, yet Vitaud’s stricter attention to the carefully scaled dynamics yields a more colourful canvas. Concerning the lengthy and inventive Chorale and Variations, each pianist stands out in different ways. Here Ancelle heeds the composer’s numerous tempo adjustments, articulates polyrhythms accurately and conveys the frequent requests for brillante passagework with cutting-edge brilliance. Yet Vitaud’s fingerwork is suppler, more even and more electrifying; for proof, simply compare both pianists in Var 4’s très leger staccato repeated notes and the motoric, Prokofiev-like sequences towards the end.
In Dutilleux’s Préludes, Vitaud mainly focuses on pianistic sheen, while Ancelle offers more refinement in regard to voicing chords or highlighting bass-lines and harmonic felicities. You hear this, for example, in No 2’s virtuoso outbursts and in No 3’s rapid two-handed lines in contrary motion. On the other hand, Vitaud’s approach makes sense in a Lisztian context, where the bass rumblings and chirping trills in No 1 naturally flow out of Liszt’s ‘Angelus’ beforehand and the little Liszt Klavierstück that follows. Valse oubliée No 1 is a tad icy and businesslike, whereas these qualities befit the strangely stark Nuages gris. I would have expected a more scintillating, less studio-bound Mephisto Waltz No 1, given Vitaud’s aforementioned virtuoso flair.
The taut, line-oriented pianism throughout Ancelle’s Chopin Ballades purges decades’ worth of expressive clichés from these over-recorded scores. What’s missing, however, is the heroic sweep, the singing impulse and the ardent drama distinguishing disparate Ballade cycles by Moravec, Perahia, Zimerman, Arrau and Rubinstein. In all, these releases are valuable for the Dutilleux selections, less so for the Liszt and Chopin.