When this disc came in originally in a standard CD version I auditioned it but actually paid little attention to the music, considering the composer just a creator of little salon pieces, some of which got transcribed for orchestra and gained some popularity – such as the closing Bourrée fantasque here or his most famous work – Espana. This SACD version struck me entirely differently, partly due to the great clarity and immediacy of the piano sound in hi-res surround. And partly to reading of the liner notes reminding me of Chabrier’s status as one of the most original of all French composers.
As with many other composers, he was forced into another profession early in life by parents with no faith in a composer’s career. His discovery of Wagner help him to turn to music full time, but in some of his piano pieces he became a precursor of the Impressionists in music. The piece Sous-bois in this collection illustrates that point. The titles of the ten pittoresque pieces were often chosen just prior to publication and on occasion don’t appear to really fit. A penchant for staccato playing seems to be a standard thing with Chabrier, adding to the exuberant feeling of most of these pieces. As with many French composers, he was adept at capturing the Iberian spirit in music, and his Habanera is an example – though the dance really came from Cuba. The closing Bourrée fantasque is better known in its orchestral fabric.
Angela Hewitt had recorded many times for the Hyperion label – recently the Bach solo keyboard concertos, and before that discs of Ravel, Granados, Messiaen, all the Chopin Nocturnes and three Couperin CDs. Her sparkling treatments of these gems of Chabrier should bring new appreciation to this underrated composer.
– John Sunier