Sony Classical Releases Lucas Debargue's Remarkable Recording of Fauré's Complete Music for Solo Piano

This 4-album set with 68 tracks is a remarkable new release as it covers the complete piano oeuvre of Gabriel Fauré written over 60 years.

By: Feb. 23, 2024
Sony Classical Releases Lucas Debargue's Remarkable Recording of Fauré's Complete Music for Solo Piano
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For his latest release on Sony Classical, pianist Lucas Debargue turns to one of the unsung treasuries of the piano repertoire - the works of Gabriel Fauré. In a remarkable undertaking, Debargue has recorded every note of his compatriot's piano music - all on a newly designed piano rarely heard on record until now. New single 3 Nocturnes, Op.33: III. Nocturne in A-Flat Major is out today. 

For many years, Debargue was mystified by what he describes as the ‘gentle melancholy and harmonic sophistication' of Fauré's piano music. He played the French composer's early piano works but steered clear of the Bagatelles, Nocturnes and Preludes that enjoy a special reputation among certain pianists.

Turning Point

The turning point came when Debargue encountered Fauré's Nine Preludes Op 103. These elusive masterpieces, written in 1910-11, ‘revealed the profound originality and mastery' of the composer, says Debargue. They encompass, the pianist believes, ‘a vast emotional range from serene contemplation to extreme anguish.'

For his new recording, Debargue has reexamined Fauré's entire output for piano, starting from the beginning. Across 4 CDs, he ‘retraces the journey that the composer had taken from his earliest works for the piano to his last contribution to the medium.' Recording it, reports the pianist, has ‘transformed my life both as a person and as a musician.'

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) lived through a time of great change in France. He was born into a country entrenched in tradition but by the end of his life had witnessed the arrival of radical new trends including the birth of modernism and the shifting of the centre of musical gravity from Vienna to his own city, Paris.

Delicacy, accuracy and precision are often cited as key elements of Fauré's music, which has a reputation for understated elegance but is just as often passionate and disruptive. It was famously referred to by Aaron Copland as ‘intensity on a background of calm'. Like Beethoven, Fauré was afflicted by encroaching deafness with increasing age - a feature of his biography that influenced his later music.

Piano music ranks alongside chamber music and song as the most important genre in Fauré's production. The composer spent 60 years exploring the piano and developing his specific philosophy of the instrument. In his piano music, the expressive rubs shoulders with the reserved, the spontaneous with the austere, violence with calm - sometimes within the space of a single bar. In his works for the instrument, the composer's trademark clarity and concision are combined with sinuous melodies and tantalizing harmonic ambiguity.

A Rarely Heard Instrument

It is Debargue's firm belief that Fauré's piano music deserves a very particular instrumental sound. He has found the instrument to provide it in the ‘Opus 102' piano, designed and built by Stephen Paulello - a boutique piano maker based in Bourgogne, France.

The instrument's name comes from its extended range of 102 keys, encompassing eight octaves plus a fourth. It is a ‘barless' piano, in which no part of the metal frame is laid over resonating strings, resulting in unconstrained resonance across every string and therefore, every note. Parallel strings and nickel-coated wires help create a different piano sonority.

When Debargue first played the Paulello Opus 102 piano, he was surprised and intrigued. ‘The instrument resembled no other,' he says: ‘not only did if fill me with considerable enthusiasm, it also left me feeling disorientated.'

What the pianist describes as the ‘ideal clarity' in the instrument led him to conclude that this would be the partner piano for his Fauré recordings. Among its qualities, he cites, is its ability to change sound at a moment's notice, ‘to switch from a velvety sound to something more acidulous.'

Fauré and the Piano

Fauré wrote piano works throughout his creative life, resulting in an oeuvre stretching over some sixty years. His first published piano pieces, Trois romances sans parole, cannot be precisely dated but are thought to have been written around 1863. They show the influence of Mendelssohn and the German school, but with Gallic charm. Also included here are Fauré's frequently overlooked Pièces brèves Op 84, written later in the 1860s.

Among the works that followed were an 1875 Mazurka in stylistic tribute to Chopin, with touches of grace and melancholy, and the Ballade for solo piano (written 1877-79), known for its intricate piano writing.

Perhaps Fauré's best known piano collection is his set of Barcarolles, written over 41 years from 1880 and second only to the Nocturnes in offering a comprehensive survey of what the composer could draw from a piano in service of his wider musical worldview. The set moves from straightforward but charming lyricism to music of unearthly transparency.

The ornate Impromptus followed in 1881, while the Valses-caprices, a collection started in 1882 and added to for twelve years, reveal the improvisatory elements to Fauré's writing (a quality particularly suited to the Paulello Opus 102, says Debargue). Other works of the period include a sturdy Theme and Variations of 1895.

Fauré's late sets of 13 Nocturnes and Nine Preludes are without doubt his most remarkable works for the piano. The Nocturnes appears to alternate light and dark, passion and serenity, in which there are references to the abyss of the First World War. The Nine Preludes, from 1910-11, are elusive masterpieces that gradually reveal their truths from a place of cool serenity.

Fauré's hallmarks make themselves felt throughout these works - a sinuous musical language that combines ancient modes with modern conventions, and whose emotional breadths have rarely been matched. Fauré's music can appear to show both courage and despair, but its most admirable and consistent quality is widely believed to be its charm.

Fauré 2024

Lucas Debargue's recording of Fauré's complete piano works is set to be a major recording event of the Fauré anniversary, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death in 1924. Its 68 tracks will be available digitally as well as physically in a 4 CD box . A comprehensive set of sleeve notes notes includes Debargue's own commentary on each piece, an analysis of Fauré's approach to the piano writing and full details of the Paulello Opus 102 instrument. The pianist will include Fauré in his recitals throughout the coming year.



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