FAURÉ Complete Nocturnes (Eric le Sage)
Two new discs, by Eric Le Sage on Alpha Classics and Nicolas Stavy on BIS, add further testimony that Gabriel Fauré, universally recognised as a master of the chanson and chamber music, but whose piano music has been historically neglected outside France, should be regarded as an important master of the instrument. Le Sage, among whose extensive discography is a traversal of Fauré’s chamber music, presents all 13 Nocturnes, while Stavy’s recital includes two early works previously unrecorded.
It is a pleasure to hear Fauré’s Nocturnes, lyrical pieces described by his son, Philippe Fauré-Fremiet, as evoking ‘the secret communion of humanity and things invisible’, presented chronologically as a set. Le Sage’s ample arsenal of touch and release strategies and his infinitely calibrated dynamic spectrum reveal nuances of textural richness inherent in this intimate repertory. Replete though the Nocturnes may be with sentiment, Le Sage’s sensibility never courts sentimentality.
The emotional variety of these pieces is vividly portrayed. The mysterious, almost sinister darkness of the E flat minor of Op 33 is completely dispelled by the two subsequent extrovert companion pieces. The sheer virtuosity with which the Fifth Nocturne overflows, far from being exhibitionist, is inextricable from its emotional abundance. The means, here as elsewhere, is perfectly tailored to suit the end. The mercurial emotions of the Seventh Nocturne are beautifully wrought, while the despair of the Thirteenth cuts close to the bone. These are loving interpretations by an artist who has made Fauré’s intimate and complex language his own.
Stavy’s disc has the added interest of works that will be published as part of the Bärenreiter critical edition but which have not been heard on record before. Both the early Sonate, written as a teaching piece for Fauré’s niece, and the Mazurka, are clearly the products of a young composer, yet hint at aspects of the mature master. Stavy is particularly persuasive in the large-scale Ballade, dedicated to Saint Saëns, Fauré’s beloved teacher.
With traversals of Fauré’s piano music by Louis Lortie (Chandos) and Jean Claude Pennetier (Mirare) either complete or under way, and recent fine single releases by Hannes Minnaar (Challenge Classics, 2/17) and Michel Dalberto (Aparté, A/17), not to mention the excellent discs reviewed here, is it safe to say a full-scale renaissance of the French master is in full flower?