Sunday, 17 October 2010

THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL: Pascal Rogé Piano Recital / Review

PASCAL ROGÉ Piano Recital
City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong
Thursday (14 October 2010)

The French pianist Pascal Rogé (left) is no stranger in these parts, having performed in every The Joy of Music Festival since its inception in 2006. This was however his first solo recital, which is the extended version of his recital programme Poetes du Piano on CD, issued on the Onyx Classics label. Much of this was also heard in his 2009 recital at the Singapore International Piano Festival, but that mattered little as much pleasure was afforded by the playing.

In all he played 24 short pieces by five French composers (including Chopin who never returned to his native Poland) grouped according to form and genre – from nocturnes, waltzes, mazurkas and études in the hour-long first half, and preludes and ballades in the shorter second half. Chopin was the ever-looming presence and influence. Has any Romantic piano music not been touched by Chopin’s inimitable blend of passion and poetry?
Three nocturnes by Gabriel Faure (No.1), Chopin (Op.48 No.1) and Francis Poulenc (No.1) opened the concert, moving from shades of moody grey clouds, through red hot-blooded pathos to pastel pink. Then three short numbers from Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales lit up the aural palette like glittering facets of a cut diamond, contrasted with the bittersweet Chopin Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2). The first Debussy to be heard his early Mazurka (1891), so derivative that it might have been written by Chabrier or Chopin himself. A Chopin Mazurka, also in the same key of B minor but melancholy and wistful, also followed.

A bolt from the blue came in Debussy’s Étude pour huit doigts (for eight fingers), its veritable whirlwind swept the stage with a furious onslaught of glissandi, an astonishing soundscape pacified only by Chopin’s graceful Aeolian Harp (Op.25 No.1). Debussy’s Étude No.11 (pour arpegges composes) carried on this trail of legato before a stormy close with Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude (Op.10 No.12). If one thought that Rogé had begun his recital somewhat tentatively, this impression had completely evaporated into the ether. By now, this recital took on an epic journey of wonder and discovery.
The second half was a son et lumiere show like no other. Debussy’s early Ballade (1890) was no great masterpiece but it effectively book-ended a wonderful selection of Préludes. Chopin was represented by his Raindrop Prélude (Op.28 No.15) and the pensive little number in B minor (Op.28 No.6), while the Debussy set of six revealed Roge as a master colourist par excellence. There can be no simplicity as touching as his view of The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, or the spare harmonies of Canope. An aural version of chiaroscuro lit up La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune while one could feel the tickling breeze of Le vent dans la plaine. Rhythmic exuberance filled Les Collines d’Anacapri while Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest became the perfect storm. The master storyteller that Rogé was completed his yarn with the longest piece of the evening, Chopin’s Fourth Ballade. in a performance that built gradually from its gentle opening to a tumultuous close. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.

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