Lucas Debargue plays Bach, Beethoven and Medtner
The French pianist Lucas Debargue was snapped up by Sony after the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition. Not because he won it, but because he didn’t. In fact he was placed only fourth – a decision that proved controversial with public and jury alike. Patrick Rucker offered a slightly cautious welcome to Debargue’s live recital in these pages earlier this year (Sony Classical, 6/16); for this, his first studio recording, we get a refreshing combination of Bach, Beethoven and Medtner.
What has got people talking about Debargue is the fact that he didn’t start studying the piano until the relatively geriatric age of 11 and only became serious about it in 2010, by which point he was 20. There’s no doubt that he has a considerable natural musicality and of the composers here it is Medtner with whom he seems to have a particular affinity. He conveys the epic quality of the Op 5 Sonata’s opening movement without losing sight of its introversion. The Intermezzo is markedly slower than Hamelin’s account, and hardly allegro, but Debargue almost carries it off. Almost. In the finale he gets the dramatic pacing just so, revelling in its jubilant close.
The Beethoven too has its high points: the finale has a scampering agility and he’s not afraid to be delicate where others are more trenchant. However, I did find his slow movement just too sepulchral (listen to Richard Goode and Stephen Kovacevich to hear how it’s possible to be compelling at markedly quicker tempi). But both Debargue’s Medtner and his Beethoven have real personality.
That can’t quite be said (yet) of his Bach Toccata. The opening movement lacks the sense of authority of the finest players and Debargue seems more concerned with correctness than with flair. So even where you have nice touches, such as the echo effects in the Fugue, it sounds a little strait-laced, while the dramatic closing moments of the work are relatively underplayed. But there’s no doubt that Debargue is a talent to watch.