Pianist Emmanuel Despax continues to impress in this, his latest release on Signum Classics; we previously looked at his performances of Chopin Piano Concertos in chamber versions; a disc of Bach transcriptions entitled Spira, Sprea; and, finally and delightfully, Despax’s own Sound of Music Fantasy.
Here’s a film of part of his arrangement of Fauré’s song Après un Rêve (After a Dream, Op. 7/1). Despax’s arrangement is masterly, not least in his use of different registers for the beautiful melody. Here’s a filmed excerpt:
This opens Despax’s disc; in a Wigmore lunchtime recital on Saturday, July 1, 2023, Despax placed this in-between Poulenc and Ravel as a sort of sorbet between wourses. Heard at the beginning of the disc, and therefore coming to it fresh, allows for a sense of appreciation of the excellence of the transcriptions.
Poulenc’s Les Soirées de Nazelles (19930-36) is rarely heard, and deserves far mroe recognition. I last heard it live just over a year ago in Orléans, France, in a concert given by Soloists of the Orchestre symphonique d'Orléans - the piano soloist was Chae-Un Kim. Despax's reading is more sophisticated still. Poulenc's piece, a set of charater portraits of his friends, is symmetrically structures: the set of eight portraits is frames by two cadanzas (Largo and Très large et très librement), themselves framed by a “Prèambule” balance by a “Final”
Here’s the “Préambule”:
... and listen to how Despax differentiates the chords in “La suite dans les idées” (this was even finer in the Wigmore recital):
and this, the stunning “Le gout du malheur” (teh taste of misfortune), the most extended ofthe titled moveents, a study in intensity and cantabile line:
Despax's performance is impeccable; Debussy's “Cair de lune” from Suite bergamasque, offered as an encore at the Wigmore, here acts as a posnt of repose between the Poulenc and the virtuoso Liszt (extended by Horowitz!) arrangement of Saint-Saëns' Danse macabre. It is the way that, even in ths studio, Despax sounds so natural in teh Debussym, that is so impressive. Here”s the filmed trailer for the Debussy:
The Danse macabre is ons of Saint-Saêns'most famous pieces, here miraculously transformed into something so itensely pianistic it feels like it could never have been for any otehr instrument. Maybe it was the open fifths that attracted Liszt (think of his own Mephisto Waltz No. 1). Here is Depsax in this terrific arrangement of the Danse, perfectly paced, fingers scintillating, each chord perfectly weighted. Again, a filmed taster:
One piece that did not make it to the Wigmore recital was Cécile Chaminade’s Nocturne, Op. 165, and while it might be salon music, it is salon music par excellence, beautifully fragranced, and the perfect precursor to Ravel’s exquisite Gaspard de la nuit:
The Ravel is a dream; it was even more fantastical at teh Wigmore recital. In both, though, Despax’s pedalling is what impressed so much. Thsi is surely a perfect realisation of Ravel’s textures:
The central “Le Gibet” is transfixig in the recording, as it was at the recent Wigmore Hall recital (incidentally, a live performance from the Wigmore from March 2021 is also available on YouTube):
The final “Scarbo” strijes dread into most pianists” hearts. Here, in both recording and live performance, a lyric element balanced any virtuosity perfectly; gesture, too, was a significant part ofthe mix. And how the rapid repeated notes act as generators of an energy about to be unleashed. The whole is perfectly sculpted:
The “encore” is Henri Duparc’s Aux étoiles, the perfect balance to the opening Fauré/Despax.
Dedicated to Emmanuel Despax’s grandfather, Jacques (“a poet who loved the musicality of words and the poetry within music”), this is a treasurable disc born of a musician of the highest possible musicality.