POULENC Piano Works – Rogé
This is the most enjoyable record of piano music that I have heard for ages; the sort of collection that makes you positively impatient for the side to end so that you can go back to the beginning and hear it all over again. Taken as a whole, the record reminds one of how much Chopin and Schumann (the Soirees de Nazelles are Poulenc's Carnaval, really) there was in his musical make-up, along with the music-hall memories, the echoes of Couperin, the Stravinskian toccatas and neo-baroqueries. And how much Schubert, too: one of the Improvisations is avowedly an Hommage a Schubert, but there are several other moments in which he quite naturally, and with great affection, slips into a Schubertian Landler or Deutsche. 'Naturally' because there does seem to have been something of a temperamental affinity between the two composers; both have an enchantingly fresh and personal lyricism, both can be wise and naive simultaneously, both can distil pure and never sentimental sentiment from trifles.
The Mouvements perpetuels and the Valse are, I suppose, the best-known music here, but delightful though they are they really seem like the least of Poulenc in this company. Try, if you do not know them, the first and third of the Novelettes (the former a lovely sequence of hommages to all the deities in Poulenc's pantheon, the latter an exquisitely subtle fantasy on a phrase from Falla), or the effortless unfolding of graceful melody in the Pastourelle, or the tender portrait of a vulnerable Edith Piaf in the fifteenth Improvisation. The Soirees de Nazelles (eight short pieces with Couperin-esque titles framed by a prelude, cadenza and finale) are Poulenc at his most genial and relaxed, exuberance and gentle poetry in alternation, not without moments both of deeper emotion and of sheer skittishness.
Roge plays them and the other pieces here with huge enjoyment (Poulenc's own pleasure in playing the piano is everywhere apparent); I am not at all surprised that the entire recital was recorded (and recorded with admirable cleanliness and richness) within a single day. He is crisply and delicately brilliant where required (the fragile arabesques of the ''Pastorale'', the first of the Trois mouvements, are beautifully precise), but also quite often uses a fuller sonority than many pianists would bring to this music. It is strong enough to stand it, he effectively demonstrates, and in so doing dispels any lurking illusion that Poulenc was a charming but slight composer. What lovable pieces these are.'