Pierné Piano Concerto
Following on from Laurent Wagschal’s recent disc of Pierné’s piano music (Timpani, 2/11, including the sombre and magnificent Variations, for Cortot a major contribution to French keyboard literature), Chandos now issues an orchestral recital of the highest quality, a reminder of charm and craftsmanship too long neglected. The Marche des petits soldats de plomb makes an enchantingly light-hearted curtain-raiser with its mischievous elfin fade-out, while the Divertissements sur un thème pastoral (a gift for the Orchestre Colonne) offers Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic an opportunity to perform one elegant and stylish variation after another with a thrilling brilliance and engagement. The two Ramuntcho Suites turn to Pierre Loti’s 1897 novel for inspiration. Set in the French Basque country, they are programme music par excellence, with much local colouring including a Fandango and Rapsodie Basque.
However, pride of place must surely go to the Piano Concerto, clearly inspired by Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto, though with a scintillating character of its own. Only a puritan could resist the second-movement Scherzando, where a jaunty theme is sent spinning through a maze of sparkling Christmas-tree elaboration. There is alternating grandeur and frivolity in the finale which Bavouzet (fresh from triumphs in his Bartók and Ravel concerto recordings) plays with an enthralling virtuosity. Here and elsewhere he makes it difficult to imagine a more bright-eyed and eloquent soloist, and his partners work with him hand-in-glove. For all those who delight in a wholly French grace
and magic, this disc is a winner, and it is superbly recorded.