Fauré: The complete Barcarolles; Trois romances sans paroles

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: The complete Barcarolles; Trois romances sans paroles
PERFORMER: Charles Owen (piano)

After too many years as ‘music of the shadows’, Fauré’s piano music is at last emerging in its full measure of energy and brilliance. Charles Owen buys enthusiastically into this truer picture of the music, glimpses of which we can gather from the not entirely trustworthy evidence of the composer’s own recordings. On the technical front Owen is absolutely secure, with fine observation of the music’s often multiple layering, due in part, no doubt, to Fauré’s ambidexterity. He also eschews Fauré’s bugbear: ritenutos at the ends of phrases.
At times, I would have liked a hint of the ambiguity that increasingly colours Fauré’s approach to cadences as the series continues: in the Sixth Barcarolle, for instance, the naughty D flat in bar 104, countering the ‘correct’ D natural four bars earlier, could do with a slight emphasis; and at the very end of the Tenth Barcarolle, I would welcome a less straightforward account of the tussle between A major and A minor.
But, time and again, Owen’s playing makes Fauré sound almost like Brahms and, in the later Barcarolles, a Brahms seriously drunk on counterpoint, though always capable. What weird stuff it is! It benefits immeasurably from such confident, masculine playing, which conveys the message: ‘Hang on in there, it’ll all come out right!’ The excellent recorded sound ranges from the delicate to the majestic. Roger Nichols