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Alain Planès at FAES

Alain Planès, pianistFrench pianist Alain Planès has made good (and sometimes great) recordings of everything he played on his Sunday recital (see my recent review of the conclusion of his complete Debussy set). The event was sponsored by the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, as the third concert of what is, regrettably, its last season off the NIH campus. In an unforgettable juxtaposition, the early start time of this recital, at 3 pm instead of the usual 4 pm, made the concert overlap with the much louder dance music of the D.J. at a bar mitzvah party in the next room at Bethesda's Congregation Beth-El. Even with a late start, to allow the loudspeakers to fall silent, pre-teen noise and chatter continued throughout much of this keenly anticipated recital, an unfortunate comedy of errors.

Alain Planès:
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Haydn Sonatas
(vol. 1)

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Schubert Sonatas

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Debussy, Estampes

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Janáček, On an Overgrown Path
The opening work, Haydn's Sonata No. 31 (A-flat major, Hob. XVI:46), was brilliantly virtuosic, subtly melodic, generously pedaled, and gracefully phrased. The very Rococo figuration in the third movement was played as consummately ornate, filigree decoration, and the languid middle movement revealed Planès taking great care with the contrapuntal voicings. The Classically oriented first half concluded with Schubert's fourth sonata (A minor, D. 537), which had a few missed notes here and there, in spite of Planès using a score (as he did throughout this recital). It was the varied colors and shaping of melodic lines around the daunting masses of notes, the full chords and vivid rhythmic patterns, that made this Schubert so satisfying. A brooding first movement, alternately forthright and introverted, was matched nicely by the tense, even sotto voce second movement.

Other Reviews:

Steve Smith, Haydn, Fleet but Controlled, Debussy in Many Textures (New York Times, December 4)
The exoticist Estampes, although it contains some of Debussy's most daring pianistic challenges, is one of my least favorite of the composer's character piece sets, little more than faux chinoiserie and Spanishisms. As he did on his recording, Planès aimed mostly to capture those color effects, with a vast dynamic sweep, from smooth and evocative raindrops to sensuous lushness and rumbling percussion to sinewy vastness. Planès seemed most technically at ease in the final work, the first ten movements of Janáček's On an Overgrown Path. For this sort of personal journal, a record of vignettes from the Czech composer's walks, Planès began in a sentimental but not schmaltzy approach.

His playing was at times forceful (no. 2, A Leaf Blown Away) and at others wistful and full of nostalgia (no. 4, The Madonna of Frydek), as folk dissonances and Czech speech-inflected melodies rattled memorably over placid, murmuring backgrounds. The final sequence of pieces, relating the composer's devastation at the loss of his daughter Olga, was elegiac, with the shrieks of the barn owl in no. 10 followed by misty, interior remembrances. Hopes for a Scarlatti sonata encore were not to be fulfilled, probably because Planès was not travelling with a historical instrument. With a wry comment about wanting to bring us "some perfume from Paris," he left us instead with Debussy's heady La plus que lente.

FAES has had to cancel its February 18 concert, featuring the winner of the Trio di Trieste Competition. Instead, clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein and pianist Alon Goldstein will play a program of Schubert, Schumann, Poulenc, and Brahms a weekend before the original date (February 10, 4 pm).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very interesting review of Alain Planes concert back in November. I very much enjoyed the recital he gave at An Die Musik the Sat night, December 8th, as well. The environment was much more conducive to great music making than the one you saw, with ADM's usual attentive and knowledgeable audience; I recognized a number of piano professionals and students from Peabody in the audience.

Mr. Planes did not disappoint. Although the piano at ADM has sometimes been criticized as somewhat lacking the degree of subtlety sometimes desired for classical music, Mr. Planes did a wonderful job of showing that a good deal of nuance is still be had from this fairly small instrument when it is placed in the hands of a master. Unfortunately, the concert was sadly undersubscribed. Those of us present were treated to a beautifully played and brilliantly nuanced evening of music in a delightfully intimate space.