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Briefly Noted: Hamelin Surveys Fauré

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Fauré, Nocturnes and Barcarolles / Dolly Suite, Marc-André Hamelin, Cathy Fuller

(released on September 1, 2023)
Hyperion CDA68331/2 | 163'40"
Marc-André Hamelin has made a name for himself by playing extremely difficult music with ease and musicality. The latest in the Canadian-born pianist's excellent series of deeply probing recitals of unusual music, all on the Hyperion label, is devoted to Gabriel Fauré, specifically to all thirteen of the French composer's Nocturnes and all thirteen of his Barcarolles. Hamelin played a few of these pieces during his most recent appearance in the area, last year on the Candlelight Concert Society's series. (He had just put this recording in the can the previous July and September, in London.)

Fauré apparently disdained programmatic titles, and the genre of nocturne and barcarolle were instead suggested by publishers: the composer's son Philippe famously joked that if left to his own devices, Fauré would have called every piano piece "Piano Piece No. so-and-so." Yet while the nocturnes are not all placid and nocturnal, the Barcarolles are set in the expected compound meter, like the Venetian gondolier songs for which the genre is named. Hamelin approaches these often melancholic, curious works with tasteful reserve, never overstating but leaving no question of technical mastery over them. The stylistic development of harmonic vocabulary and melodic fancy is fascinating to hear, from the first pieces composed in the late 1870s up to the last from 1921, shortly before Fauré's death.

Solidifying the qualifications of this double-CD set as the best to own is the addition of a lovely rendition of Fauré's Dolly Suite, with Hamelin's wife, Cathy Fuller, on the primo part. Fuller is a trained pianist who now works as a broadcaster, and she makes a lovely impression on the upper part, which Fauré intentionally made simpler, for the dedicatee, Regina-Hélène (nicknamed Dolly), the young daughter of his lover, Emma Bardac. (Emma eventually became Debussy's wife.) A perceptive booklet essay by Jessica Duchen, erstwhile blogger and author of an authoritative biography of Fauré (Phaidon Press, 2000), rounds out this most alluring new release.

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