Fauré • Messiaen • Ravel
If Messiaen’s early Préludes of 1929 are not quite everyday concert fare for pianists, they certainly don’t lack recordings. Alexander Lonquich raises the competition’s technical ante by several notches, sporting quicker tempos (he dispatches No. 5, ‘Les sons impalpables du rêve’ at nearly twice Peter Hill’s speed on Regis), sharper articulation and a huge dynamic range that truly will test your loudspeakers. Similar fire and ice define Lonquich in five of Fauré’s Nocturnes. The pianist’s dry-eyed clarity does not compromise the ampleness of his tone, and he takes the composer’s careful dynamic and expressive directions on faith. Lonquich convinces less in Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. His rock-steady basic tempo and ideal balances nearly resemble Michelangeli in the first pages of ‘Ondine’ (Philips), yet Lonquich starts to slow down as the arpeggios add up. The long lines of ‘Le Gibet’ nearly crumble under the weight of the pianist’s slow-to-dragging pace. ‘Scarbo’ fares much better: indeed, most pianists would give their eyeteeth for the precision of Lonquich’s repeated notes. Yet it lacks the demonic edge and imaginative turns of phrase that secure Argerich and Pogorelich (both DG) as this work’s frontrunners on disc, with Abbey Simon on Vox as bargain-priced first choice. One should mention ECM’s superb engineering and Jessica Duchen’s wonderful booklet annotations.