Alexandre Tharaud, whom I reviewed not so long ago in the music of Couperin, turns his attentions back to Chopin and his spiritual kindred, Federico Mompou. Tharaud performs his recital on an eight-year-old Steinway D, and its seductive character reveals itself in the less popular of the Chopin Preludes (1838), such as the asymmetrical A Minor and the E Major, with its tragic, martial resignation. The Preludes have had some wonderful exponents in the last 25 years, such as Lucchesini on EMI, but my model has been and remains Ivan Moravec on VAI (courtesy of Connoisseur Society). Everywhere Moravec–and now Tharaud–remind us how much of the Romantic keyboard rhetoric the Preludes subsume: the vocalism of the writing; the use of pedal and ornamentation; the deliberate delay of the resolved dissonance; the sheer, protean approach to the form, which appears as mazurkas, etudes, nocturnes, and abbreviated sonata movements. Tharaud takes the last four of the series as an entity in itself, a lovely touch that catapults us to the demonic D Minor–inescapably linked to the film about Dorian Gray–and its throes of despair mixed with firm resolve.
The ubiquitous E Minor–with its own cinematic ties to Jack Nicholson and Five Easy Pieces–provides fodder for Mompou as it does for Busoni, so Musica callada XV (Silent Music) echoes its pained breathing and fall. The lyrical Ninth Prelude of Mompou comes from the composer’s own cycle, and El lago (The Lake) suggests a lake akin to Sibelius’ Kuolema. Rehearing the disc brings us the liquid wonders of the Chopin F-sharp Minor Prelude, and the sterling subito Tharaud applies to the ever-hypnotic A-flat Major. The big mazurkas, like Nos. 12 in G-sharp Minor and No. 16 in B-flat Minor exhibit muscular grace as well as the requisite national vehemence. Few can compete with Artur Rubinstein’s version of the lovely Trios Nouvelles Etudes–except for Arrau–but Tharaud brings a tender nostalgia to each of them. For sheer exotic sensuality, none approaches Michelangeli in the C-sharp Minor Prelude, though Tharaud certainly exhibits its feminine side. The Petit Prelude in A-flat Major is a youthful effort, first revealed to me in its pristine from by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Tharaud dedicates this disc to the memory of Vlado Perl muter (1904-2002), himself a devoted, conscientious poet of the keyboard who made the music of Chopin and Ravel his very own.