Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Jacques Rouvier Piano Recital: Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall

Thursday (30 October 2008)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 November 2008

Jacques Rouvier, professor at the Paris Conservatoire, is better known in pianophile circles as the teacher of the French firebrand Helene Grimaud. A well respected jury member in international competitions, he completely disproved the notion that those who stand in judgment of rising pianists are more often than not has-beens on the performing front.

His recital began with Haydn's Sonata No.23 in F major, which sounded over-pedalled in part, thus watering down the effect of crispness providing that lift the music needs. His dextrous fingers however served the outer movements well, especially the Presto finale, imbuing it with the right humour including its simple ironic ending.

When one expected languor and rubato galore in two Chopin Nocturnes - both in the key of C sharp minor - he played them relatively straight, however captured the undercurrents of disquiet well. In Liszt's barnstorming Funerailles, he generated much volume and clarity in the central episode of stampeding octaves, once thought to be a tribute to the late-lamented Chopin. Despite that, a certain epic quality seemed in want, and one would need to defer to a certain Horowitz to discover grand tragedy and the necessary hysterics.

French repertoire found Rouvier at his most sympathetic. His selection of Debussy Préludes was a joy to behold, vindicating the composer's dictum that his music was written for an instrument without hammers. Played without a break, the six short pieces merged as a seamless collage, with points and splashes of colour teasing the senses. Variegated gems like Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves) and Ondine sat picturesquely with the more rhythmically incisive La puerta del vino (Gate Of Wine) and nonchalant swagger of General Lavine eccentric....

In the Ravel segment, the popular Pavane For The Dead Infanta came off with understated grace but sounded unsentimental. The valid question posed by Rouvier is whether we non-French have read too much into this slow and stately dance's supposed programme, and expect it to sound like some over-romanticised swansong.

Ravel's neoclassical Sonatine was a model of fine taste and technical exactitude, and in two pieces from Miroirs (Mirrors), the soft echoes in Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds) and clicking castanets of the Spanish-inspired Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song Of The Jester) were judged to perfection. As the sole encore, Poulenc's bucolic little Pastorale provided a delectable end to an enthralling evening.

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