FringeReview UK 2019
Antonio Oyarzabal’s piano recital was all-French: Rameau, Mélanie Bonis, Debussy, Boulanger, Poulenc.
Antonio Oyarzabal’s welcome return was an all-French piano recital: Rameau, Mélanie Bonis, Debussy, Boulanger, Poulenc.
Following most of the great Couperin, Jean-Phillppe Rameau’s 1724 and 1728 keyboard works prelude his great series of breakout opera begun at the age of 50 and continuing to his death at 81.
The E minor Suite is dark, troubled with dream-like toccata-ish elements, after its ‘Allemande’ opening and ‘running’ ‘Courante’, and we’re in some wonderfully characteristic territory. The ‘Gigue en Rondeau’ is the first strangely eddying piece and Oyarzabal’s playing it straight as a modern piano pieces inflected with period knowledge is how many pianists led by Angela Hewitt reclaim the baroque today. The famous ‘Le Rappel des Oiseaux’ must be the ancestor of those Meaasaein bircals, though many baroque composers like Daquin are remembered slowly for such things. Same with the two darkly bright ‘Rigadons’ the latter a mirror inversion, , with another wistful ’Musette en Rondeau’ whose almost doll-like clarity gets a workout her despite the cavernous acoustics. The ‘Tambourin’ with its drone-like refrain is well brought-out and pointed like everything else.
The most intriguing composer of all here is Mélanie Bonis (1858-1937), who’s being emerging strongly from those shadows of sexism. A year younger than Chaminade, three years Chausson’s junior and four years older than Debussy, her soundworld’s close to Chausson and Debussy too. Her Piano Quartets are already entering the repertoire after some fine recordings. There’s so much to discover and these four ‘Women of Legend’ are the first piano pieces I’ve heard. In fact there are others: Bonis orchestrated ‘Ophelia’, ‘Salomé’ and ‘Cleopatra’ which aren’t played. There’s terrific colour in the orchestrations though the four chosen by Oyarzabal come in pairs.
The first ‘Phoebe’ is a lyrical upbeat work faintly recalling Chausson – that’s a pointer only. It’s attractive dark-thewed and recalls the piano-writing of Bonis’ Piano Quartets. The second ‘Viviane’ does reference Chausson who wrote an early symphonic poem on the same subject, a sorceress who hoodwinks Merlin. This piece might be a tacit riposte: fast, fleet, most of all lightly exuberant. There’s a liveliness that makes you feel it’s the closest in these four to Bonis’ own remarkable character. The soundworld might reference a whiff of the serious Chabrier, but Bonis’ own identity asserts itself and you forget comparisons.
The droopier two ‘Desdemone’ and ’Mélisande’ are far more andante-ish and slower than that, and less distinguished from each other. The first is inevitably darker-hued with light toal inflections of innocence – Bonis knew all about being sacrificed to older men. Only she escaped. The last – a favourite of so many composers including Debussy, Fauré, Sibelius and Schoenberg – is from Maeterlinck’s play. A curious mix of innocence desire and inevitable death, she’s a symbolist analogue of male projection. It’s a fine piece though and worth hearing the whole cycle.
Debussy’s four Preludes are familiar but apart from leading off with a delicate yet fir ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ Oyarzabal refuses obvious works and goes for the more exploratory, comparatively less well-known. ‘Brouillards’ from the opening of the second set blurs in brilliantly with flashes and half-flashes, and ‘La terrase des audiences du clair de lune’ really does terrace back the sound in layers of quite clear harmonies. ‘Ondine’ here too gets a work-out – its an underrated firework, full of extraordinary volte-faces, unlike Ravel’s more famous version. This si distinguished programming as well as playing.
The two Lili Boulanger pieces are among her least well known works, genre pieces from early on, ‘D’un Vieux Jardin’ with its bright harmonies, a mix of 18th century ad Debussy’ and ‘D’un Jardin Clair’ which also shows notes of the distinctive voice Boulanger was fast developing before her death at 24.
Poulenc’s Three Novelettes were interesting too, since far from banishing this mode they reinforced it. They’re not the barstool Poulenc, the 1920s brattish jinks that delight. They’re curious exploratory works, so brief that a whiff of Poulenc vanishes before you can grasp it.
Very distinguished playing from Oyarzabal, whose London-based activities nevertheless draw him back repeatedly. Lucky us. These intelligent programmes too make his recitals an occasion.