Faure – Belle Epoque

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Faure
LABELS: ABC Classics
WORKS: Belle Epoque – A Portrait of Gabriel Fauré: Barcarolles Nos 4, 6-8; Souvenirs de Bayreuth; Dolly Suite, Op. 56 etc
PERFORMER: Roy Howat, Emily Kilpatrick (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 476 3423

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Pianist, academic and editor Roy Howat has been steeped in the music of Fauré for decades. In this enchanting double-CD set, he creates a salon-like ambience with a personal selection of contrasting pieces, ranging from the most famous Nocturnes and the Schumannesque Thème et variations, Op. 72 to some world premiere recordings – the Pièce en forme de mazurka, the arrangement of the ‘Air de danse’ from Caligula and one short Prélude. 

Stripping away the precious aura of roses and incense which often accompanies more misguided accounts of Fauré, Howat notes the composer’s preference for strict tempos, many of which are brisker here than usual. The central section of the First Nocturne emerges as an unsettling aria over the distant rhythm of a military drum; the Dolly Suite’s ‘Berceuse’ is far from sleepy; the ‘Sicilienne’ and ‘Pavane’ are sprightly dances.

This colour-restored Fauré is close in spirit to his boulevardier mentor, Saint-Saëns, prefiguring the characteristically French ‘insouciance’ of Satie and even Poulenc – clear-textured, strongly independent and witty, though with ample power in reserve for the closing accounts of Nocturnes Nos 10 and 13.

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 Vitally, Howat’s editorial research is reflected in textual corrections which cast certain key harmonies in a new light. The original titles of the Dolly Suite pieces are restored, too: note ‘Messieu Aoul’ (Dolly Bardac’s nickname for her brother Raoul), not ‘Mi-a-ou’; and ‘Ketty-Valse’, not ‘Kitty’ – Ketty being the family dog! Howat and Kilpatrick even introduce extra twiddles, as Fauré and Messager would have, in the Wagner spoof Souvenirs de Bayreuth. An original concept album, then, that wears its erudition lightly; one that I will return to with great enjoyment many times. Jessica Duchen