Bach / Rameau / Couperin, A. Tharaud (3-CD re-release, Harmonia Mundi)
Scarlatti, A. Tharaud (Erato, 2011)
Even in the set of eight Couperin pieces, drawn from all over the place, Tharaud seemed to be questing after new sounds and approaches, adding many changes and embellishments on repeats, not afraid to use the pedals copiously, strongly differentiating polyphonic voices, even hammering out some accents for percussive effect. His Les calotines clicked and clacked, as if with mechanical sounds, and he stretched Les rozeaux and the gorgeous Les barricades mistérieuses with taffy-like rubato. The pairing of Les ombres errantes and La triomphante was played for maximal contrast, delicate and ultra-slow for the former, trumpeted motifs bustling with agitation for the latter. After the clanging, sonorous bells of Le Carillon de Cythère (an effect easier to produce on the modern piano than on the harpsichord), the rhythmic infusion of Le tic-toc-choc, now synonymous with Tharaud, was played with more force than in his recording (or his 2008 recital at the French Embassy).
Mozart's A major sonata (K. 331) followed, the variations on its gentle lullaby theme given accented wrong-note grace notes and expertly voiced hand crossings. The menuetto was organized around its big orchestral unison motif, which set off more fast and delicate music, the trio a little slower and warmer in tone. Tharaud took the piece's famous finale, Alla Turca, at a perfect Allegretto tempo, not too fast, which allowed him to make strongly marked dynamic contrasts and apply a hard-biting touch in the loud Janissary sections, enlivened by percussive attacks. Tharaud's last performance of Schubert, the Moments musicaux at his 2010 recital at the Library of Congress with Jean-Guihen Queyras, was somewhat disappointing. Here he dove into that composer's set of sixteen German dances, D. 783, with much more variety of interpretation, from big and gutsy to forlorn and enigmatic, technically solid in the many challenges (parallel thirds, filigree rising scales, and so on) but with that free, lovely sense of rubato applied in the slow pieces.
Robert Battey, A limited program and an inscrutable pianist at the Phillips (Washington Post, January 27)
The next recital not to be missed at the Phillips Collection will feature violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov (February 8).