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Pascal Roge - Debussy Piano Works 2

Recorded in Switzerland in 2005, these works enjoy high gloss and pearly resonance ****
Volume II of the complete Debussy Piano Music finds Pascal Roge in fine fettle, his playing voluptuous and the keyboard sound richly sonorous. Recorded in Switzerland, 28-30 December 2005, these works enjoy high gloss and pearly resonance, especially as the 1903 Estampes might well represent the first, deliberately impressionistic work for the piano. My own daughter, in passing by my audiophile's space during Pagodes, noted how "watery" the piano sounded. Brilliant effects in the Jardins sous la pluie, mixing ostinati with folk song. The Evening in Granada proves muscular and intimate, more than an exercise in C Sharp octaves borrowed from Ravel.
A conscious desire to contribute a piano method, along with supplying an active musical dossier of his daughter Chou-Chou's (Claude-Emma) keyboard progress led to the birth of Children's Corner in 1908. Schumann's Scenes of Childhood are quite close. Roge takes a soft, plastic line for these pieces, and even the staccato, pompous Golliwog's Cakewalk hardly rails at Wagner. The E Major Arabesque is a thing of beauty; ever since I heard its orchestral guise in the film Portrait of Jennie and Oscar Levant's early CBS inscription, I have found it beguiling. Roge plays it lovingly, then swings with panache into the second of the 1888 studies in salon invention. The Suite Bergamasque continues to weave a simultaneously archaic and erotic spell, and it would hard to name a poor recorded performance. Roge plays the four movements for their brittle, sentimental irony, the reverence and distance Debussy had for the rococo. A stately Prelude, a delicately poised Minuet, the suave stasis of Clair de Lune, and the toccata-like Passepied pass in shimmering review for our delectation.
The little diptych 1888-1890 pieces, the Ballade and Mazurka, first encountered by me with Walter Gieseking, return to the salon. They remind us that Debussy had Mme. Von Meck for a patroness, and that Tchaikovsky, Grieg. Chopin, and the French music hall contributed their parts to the dazzling amalgam we call the Debussy style. Le Petit Negre and Le plus que lente (1909) point to the sophisticated boulevardier in Debussy that would appeal directly to that man-about-town in French music, Poulenc.
Volume 2 of Pascal Rogé's complete Debussy piano music cycle for Onyx mops up some of the smaller suites and individual pieces. But that is not to suggest it is any more fragmentary in its execution than his initial volume of the Préludes.
Rogé's Debussian style, avoiding the clouding effect of the sustaining pedal as much as possible, has a sweep and clarity that still manage to convey the impressionist moods of the three Estampes at the same time as his Classical manner pays dividends in the less figurative piano-writing of "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" from Children's Corner, the two Arabesques and the Baroque-inspired movements of the Suite bergamasque.
He also shows how important rhythm is in playing Debussy's music – it is not all vague washes of notes, but demands crispness ("Serenade for the Doll"), acutely turned syncopations ("Golliwog's Cake-Walk" and "Le Petit Nègre") and a flexible rubato (the morose waltz measures of "La plus que lente"), all of which are present in Rogé's interpretative armoury. The sound engineering is a model of piano recording.
After devoting the first release to the two books of Preludes, Pascal Rogé continues his Debussy survey with a round-up of some of the smaller-scale suites and occasional pieces. The same clarity of thought and texture that informed every bar of the earlier disc is evident here too. Rogé never overdoes his rubato, well aware that the smallest expressive gesture speaks volumes in music as precisely imagined as this, and he colours the melodic lines with a carefully chosen palette of pastel shades. A perfectly judged account of Children's Corner together with Estampes and the early Suite Bergamasque are the main items here but the sequence of late miniatures at the end of the disc is strikingly well done too, especially La Plus Que Lente, the melancholy waltz that is perhaps Debussy's closest approach to the sensibility of Ravel, and one to which Rogé brings a convincing sense of world-weary nostalgia.