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20.3.14

Bertrand Chamayou @ French Embassy

available at Amazon
Schubert, Wanderer-Fantasie (inter alia), B. Chamayou
(Erato, 2014)

available at Amazon
Liszt, Années de pèlerinage, B. Chamayou
(Naïve, 2011)

available at Amazon
Franck, Les Djinns (inter alia), B. Chamayou, O. Latry, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, S. Denève
(Naïve, 2010)
[Review]


available at Amazon
Mendelssohn, Piano Pieces and Transcriptions, B. Chamayou
(Naïve, 2008)
[Review]
This review-interview is an Ionarts exclusive.

The recordings of the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou have come in for special praise in these pages. Since I had managed to miss his first and only performance here in Washington, back in 2006 (co-presented by the Roque d'Anthéron Festival at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater), the chance to hear him play an all-Schubert recital at the French Embassy, on Tuesday night, was most welcome. It turns out that Catherine Albertini, the embassy's Cultural Attaché, had presented Chamayou on a previous post in Mexico, long before Chamayou had become widely known.

Chamayou's recordings for the Naïve label have all featured Romantic composers, and his first project after signing with Erato is devoted to Schubert. After this concert, I had the opportunity to ask Chamayou a few questions, starting with why his recordings have focused on music of the 19th century. He seemed to regret that his discography indicated that he plays only Romantic music, because his interests are much broader in concert, including contemporary music and pre-Classical works. In these other areas, he told me, he has been privileged to work with Pierre Boulez, among others, and has studied the pianoforte. We did speak at some length, though, about his work with the Centre de musique romantique française, based in the Palazetto Bru Zane in Venice, which has supported some of his recordings and concerts and passed along the fruits of their research into the works of lesser-known composers of the 19th century.

What made Chamayou's Franck and Mendelssohn recordings so interesting was that he chose to pair some more familiar pieces by those composers with works that have been almost entirely forgotten. The case was similar with his Schubert program, which is anchored on the Wanderer-Fantaisie, one of the first Schubert pieces that came under his fingers. He introduced it with works that are heard much less frequently, beginning with the set of twelve Ländler, D. 790, played almost attacca, that is, with no or almost no pause between them. Each one gave a slightly different take on the Austrian folk dance known by that name, some with an orchestral scope, others like intimate moments in a small room. He did not fall into the trap of trying to make them into something more than what they are, but he found a significance in each one, especially in the first half of the set.

The two shorter pieces that followed were also both seemingly filled with a sense of nostalgia, Liszt's transcription of Schubert's song Auf dem Wasser zu singen and a single Ländler, no. 12, from the D. 366 set. Nostalgia, though, is not what Chamayou said was the most important thing in his approach to Romantic music: for him, the most important thing was to focus on a pictorial or narrative goal, revealing the literary leanings of most of the Romantic composers. This certainly seemed to be the case in the longer works on this recital, beginning with the mostly unknown three Klavierstücke (opus posth., D. 946), distinguished especially by an always beautiful touch at the keyboard and a sense of how the sections fit together to tell a story, often overcoming the composer's occasional tendency to noodle around aimlessly.

The only piece on the program one might describe as familiar was left for last, the daunting but compact Wanderer-Fantaisie. It had its tour de force moments, perhaps not as fast as some other versions in the opening section but heroic, and not only fast but mercurial in the scherzo section. As had been the case in the Klavierstücke, it was the slow movement -- an evocation of a section of the composer's song Der Wanderer -- that stood out for its forlorn quality, quite somber in color, with a concluding finale set out with a hard-handed fugato section, all steely resolution. The single encore was an equally unexpected choice -- no impromptus for Chamayou -- the Kupelwieser-Walzer transcribed by Richard Strauss. Whether one believes the story about this piece -- that Schubert played it at a wedding but never wrote it down, until Strauss transcribed what had been passed down through a couple generations in memory -- or think it is Strauss's tribute to Schubert hardly matters. It was a delicate end to a striking evening of Schubert.

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