'Voyage en Russie'
Time was when the French, with their love of understatement, stylistic elegance and clarity, looked askance at the Russian repertoire, at music so often imbued with melancholy and the darker passions. For Nadia Boulanger, Rachmaninov was ‘très vulgaire’, while for others Scriabin was little more than a pale dilution of Chopin. Today, as Claire-Marie Le Guay tells us in her recital of largely familiar Russian favourites, such absurdity seems far away. Personal and eloquent, warm and affectionate, nothing is heavily personalised or idiosyncratic. For the most part her manner is gentle and caressing, almost as if played before a small circle of intimate friends, and this from a pianist celebrated for her exceptional recordings of such demanding fare as Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.
Her Scriabin Prelude for the left hand (Op 9 No 1) could hardly be more heartfelt, while her Borodin Scherzo (once recorded by Ricardo Viñes, most enterprising of pianists) is as nimble and vivacious as you could wish. In Rachmaninov’s ‘Daisies’, Le Guay remembers vocal origins with a great singer’s natural sense of ease and flexibility, and in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Chants sans paroles’ she charms the birds out of the trees. In larger-scale Scriabin and Rachmaninov her unerring balance of sense and sensibility provides a fine alternative to, say, Horowitz’s searing intensity; and, hearing this recital, Cherkassky could never have sadly exclaimed as he once did, ‘Today pianists don’t care about sound’. I was also reminded of Eileen Joyce’s simple tribute to Myra Hess: ‘Above all she played with love.’ The same could be said of Claire-Marie Le Guay, who has been beautifully recorded by Mirare.