WORKS: Pièces pittoresques; Joyeuse marche; Valses romantiques; Aubade
PERFORMER: Roy Howat, Wendy Hiscocks (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0306 SAN 94 (distr. 0181 648 1700)
Almost every French composer of piano music up to Poulenc acknowledged a debt to Chabrier. Franck called him a new beginning. But Chabrier’s subtle and effervescent style is very hard to capture. Pianos almost collapsed at the pounding of Chabrier himself, and French pianists have tended to play his music with relentless, steely fingers.
Roy Howat, who has edited a new volume of Chabrier’s piano pieces and is a great authority on French music of the period, takes a different approach. He cannot match the virtuosity and strength of Alain Planès in the Bourrée fantasque, but it’s a nice change to hear it so delicately played, and Howat expresses a tender affection and sense of fun in the exquisite Pièces pittoresques that is almost new in Chabrier interpretation. I also find the close, quite light, dry piano sound appropriate, though it’s spread over the stereo picture rather disconcertingly, as if the different keyboard registers were sections of an orchestra. On headphones, I thought that Howat and his wife, Wendy Hiscocks, must have arranged all the music between them. In fact, they play Joyeuse marche four hands at one piano, and only the three waltzes on two instruments. Over speakers, you notice this feature less. Anyway, you have a treasure trove, hardly possible to take in at one sitting. Adrian Jack