Dutilleux: Sonata, Trois Préludes, Au gré des ondes, Bergerie, Blackbird, Tous les chemins…mí¨nent í Rome, Résonances, Petit air a dormir debout, Mini-prélude en éventail performed by John Chen as part of Naxos’ Laureate Series, Naxos 8.557823.
The piano music of Henri Dutilleux is perfectly charming and delightful. The Piano Sonata from 1948 does everything that you’d expect a Neo-Classical mid-Twentieth Century piano sonata to do and it does it all quite well. The first movement is crafty and quasi-jazzy, the second movement is haunting and tender, and the third movement is a barn burner once you get through the strident opening chorale. John Chen is very comfortable behind the wheel of these pieces even at his disgustingly young age of 19.
Trois Préludes is a collection of preludes from 1973, 1977, and 1988 respectively, and contains the most recent music on the disc. These pieces are much darker and introspective than the Sonata and I find them just stunning works. Mr. Chen’s performance is technically on the money but I feel as if the musical depths of the pieces are not being fully explored. I hope that Mr. Chen keeps these pieces in his repertoire and records them again in about 3-5 decades. These preludes require a long-term commitment.
Au gré des ondes is a suite of miniatures that emulate various styles and ideas. Mr. Chen’s technical skill is welcome on these works and he maintains the right blend of bubble and depth in each movement. Of particular charm is the final piece, “Etude” which sparkles through repeated notes and rapid arpeggios with folky melodies. A delightful collection of pieces that needs to be performed more often.
The remaining works on the disc are a hodgepodge of pieces which are all engaging and charming in their own rights. If you are expecting to hear some Messiaen influence in Blackbird, then you will be rewarded. Good for you for paying attention. Tous les chemins… is taken from Margerite Long’s Petite méthod de piano and Mr. Chen plays it with a surprising amount of tenderness and care. This is not “kiddie” music at all (and thank goodness). Résonances takes a very different look at the piano than Mr. Dutilleux’s previous pieces, focusing on ringing pedal chords. It is a spatious work which is fun to listen to and is executed with exacting expertise.
I do have to say that I am usually a little skeptical of “Complete” recordings which are done before a composer’s death. I am hopeful that Mr. Dutilleux might decided to pop out another piano gem or two in the near future. When that time comes, I look forward to reviewing the New Complete CD by a slightly older John Chen.