Poulenc: Concerto for Two Pianos; Piano Concerto; Aubade

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Concerto for Two Pianos; Piano Concerto; Aubade
PERFORMER: Frank Braley, Eric Le Sage (piano); Liège PO/Stéphane Denève
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 60308 2
Eric Le Sage is an outstanding Poulenc pianist, as he demonstrated in his RCA solo recording, and as he now confirms in the 1949 solo Concerto. His playing of the opening – supple, tender, smiling through tears – is perfectly judged; and he goes on to show all the heroism, sentimentality and devil-may-care abandon the piece requires. He brings the same qualities to the 1929 ballet score Aubade, a mythological divertissement shot through with unexpected pain; and he’s perfectly matched by Frank Braley, who takes the first part in the gamelan-haunted Double Concerto of 1932. Stéphane Denève and the Liège orchestra provide excellent support, with well-taken solos, especially in the smaller ensemble of the Aubade. But the recording places the piano(s) too much in the foreground, obscuring orchestral detail in a reverberant middle distance. Even excluding recordings of single works, there’s keen competition in this field. On Virgin, now in a super-bargain box, Jean-Bernard Pommier (with Richard Hickox, and Anne Queffélec in the Double Concerto) brings out Poulenc’s more sombre qualities, though again in an over-generous acoustic. On an Erato Ultima twofer set, François-René Duchable (with James Conlon and Jean-Philippe Collard) combines crispness with a strong sense of drama. Best of all is Pascal Rogé (with Charles Dutoit and Sylviane Deferne), whose superbly characterised and shaped playing is matched by ideal recordings, at least of the concertos. But Rogé’s performances are spread over two full-price discs; and Le Sage’s single-disc alternative certainly contains playing of very special quality. Anthony Burton