Lucas Debargue plays Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Scarlatti & Schubert
When a musician puts together a ragbag of works as variegated as this, the message is clear: this CD is not about the music, it’s about him. And Lucas Debargue’s story is indeed unusual. He didn’t touch a piano until he was 11, and for the next four years taught himself obsessively to play; between the ages of 17 and 20 he didn’t play at all, and only took up the piano again at the urging of friends, getting lessons from a distinguished Russian teacher. At the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition he won the Moscow Critics’ Association Prize; he loves the risk-taking spontaneity of live performance, and this CD is the recording of a recital he gave in Paris last November.
The first thing to say is that his technique is surprisingly solid, given his patchy training; the second, that his musical approach is wayward in the extreme. He chose this programme, he says, to illustrate the works’ ‘improvisational element, a feeling that the composer is giving freedom to the pianist’. But if he allows himself Gould-like liberties, it’s not with the great Canadian’s persuasiveness, and least of all with the Scarlatti. The Sonata K141 goes like the wind, but the other three sonatas simply don’t cohere, with the mood- and tempo-change in K24 completely destroying what should be a seamless blend of lyricism and virtuosity.
Similar problems affect the Chopin and Liszt pieces, despite the beauty he brings to their quieter moments; in the Ravel, ‘Ondine’ and ‘Le gibet’ work well, but ‘Scarbo’ lacks the necessary headlong momentum. The Schubert is sweetly sedate, the Grieg is schmaltzy. Perhaps his next CD should take its cue from his encore, which is an improvisation.