Laureate Series, Piano - Dutilleux / John Chen

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DUTILLEUX Piano Sonata. 3 Préludes. Au gré des ondes. Bergerie. Blackbird. Tous les chemins . . . mènent à Rome. Résonances. Petit air à dormir debout. Mini-prélude en éventail John Chen (pn) NAXOS 8.557823 (61:23)

In 2004, Kuala Lumpa-born pianist John Chen became the youngest-ever winner of the Sydney International Piano Competition. On the evidence of this disc, it is easy to share the jury’s enthusiasm for this young man. His choice of repertoire is at once brave and praiseworthy; the complete piano music of Henri Dutilleux fits neatly on one disc and acts as a reminder of the stature of this fine composer.

The 1948 Piano Sonata is surely Dutilleux’s most famous work for this instrument. John Ogdon made a famous recording (apparently currently unavailable and last seen on a hard to find EMI Matrix disc) and more recently the highly talented Claire-Marie Le Guay recorded her thoughts on the score. Chen finds the perfect atmosphere for the opening, conjuring up an explicitlly French world related to but not derivative of Messiaen. Chen finds much sense of play in the capricious opening section. His light touch has much to do with this; in fact, he owns a wide tonal range that enables him to bring real depth to the more sonorous, contrastive sections. The ultra-gentle second movement, entitled “Lied” by the composer, rises inevitably to a climax of cut crystal clarity. Chen brings out a processional quality that seems most apt, while the finale reveals Chen’s superb fingerwork (tremendous Debussian roulades here).

The first of the Trois Préludes seems again to make explicit reference to the rarefied world of Debussy; the second, even more so. This is truly beautiful music, and Chen holds back interpretative intervention just enough to enable the music to speak naturally while still adding his own stamp to the score. The third Prélude was written over a decade later than the other two and at nearly eight minutes is by far the most substantial. Exploratory in nature but nevertheless clearly highly structured, it leaves a lasting impression.

Au gré des ondes of 1946 is a sequence of six movements taken from Dutilleux’s work at Radio France to provide interludes between programs. There is a simplicity here that is utterly charming (“Prélude en berceuse”), pure (“Hommage à Bach”) and even almost jazzy (“Mouvement perpétuel”). The remainder of the disc is devoted to miniatures, of which the 1965 Résonances is probably the most important for the composer’s development in its exploration of sonority.

This is a significant disc in two ways. First, the complete Dutilleux piano music at bargain price in fine performances and recording is a must for all fans of this composer; second, here we have an introduction to a pianist who is clearly a major talent.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8557823

  • UPC: 747313282326

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Henri Dutilleux

  • Performer: John Chen