Jean Doyen plays CHOPIN, LISZT and Music of France – APR 

by | Aug 26, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Jean Doyen plays CHOPIN, LISZT and Music of France, 1930-1943 – Jean Doyen, piano – APR 6030 (2 CDs), TT: 2 hours 26 minutes (7/5/19) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Jean Doyen (1907-1982) remains perhaps the archetypal French pianist. Taught by Louis Diemer and Marguerite Long, Doyen became the second longest serving piano professor in the Paris Conservatoire’s history, largely dedicating his career to his homeland. His repertoire centered on the French classics, with Chopin’s taking pride of place. Doyen’s early recordings reveal a spectacular technique coupled with generous musicality and expression; as a result, he was chosen for this premiere recording of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. His Chopin Op. 2 Variations and the complete Book I of Debussy’s Images likewise represent recording debuts, but for sheer virtuoso exhilaration, his rare Sonabel album of Chabrier’s Espana proves noteworthy. None of these marvelous performances has previously been reissued, and now they enjoy a fulsome restoration from Seth Winner.

A brilliant student of Margeurite Long, Jean Doyen gained a fine reputation for a fluent technique that never sacrificed clarity for ostentation. The mystery of Doyen’s parentage has raised various stories and romantic speculations, but Frederic Gaussin posits the “illegitimate” pianist’s father to be Edouard-Fernand Doyen, a powerful business and property magnate of the Maison d’Orleans. As a young, rising talent at the Paris Conservatoire, Doyen won the support of Yves Nat and Gabriel Pierne, the latter of whom established Doyen at the Colonne series of concerts. As France and the world moved toward war and the country’s occupation, Doyen continued to work, joining conductors both French and German, such as Munch and Fournet, Lehmann and Kabasta, in concerted repertory of both nations.

The set opens with an impressive Chopin group, including a January 1936 collaboration with violinist-conductor Jean Krettly and orchestra in the Op. 2 Variations on Mozart’s ‘La ci darem la mano’ in B-flat from Don Giovanni that so inflamed Robert Schumann early response to Chopin’s talent. The brisk episodes reveal a fluency of the first order, spliced to a sure melodic line and sensitive color command. The set of four Chopin Ballades (rec. 27-28 February 1941) will bear easy comparison to those set down by Alfred Cortot, though with more technical assurance. Each maintains a sense of dramatic continuity – given their debts to the Mickiewicz poetics – without any sense of inordinate ‘profundity’ that sacrifices the elastic melodic line. Nor does Doyen contort the fine symmetry in Chopin’s idiosyncratic polyphonies, as in the ballades in G minor and F minor.  The balanced landings and punctuated moves to a musical point more than justify the Rachmaninov quip about maintaining a decisive architecture in one’s playing. Each of these massive works fulfills our need for dramatic closure.  Two waltzes, those in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 and in G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1 complete the 1941 lacquer original sets, the “minute” waltz in pearly suasion and the latter in salon, music-box luxury, less ‘brilliant’ than studied and free of any undue pedal effects.

From March 1943 Doyen delivers Liszt’s Trois Etudes de ConcertIl lamento, La leggierezza, Un sospiro –  of which the first Etude, Il lamento in A-flat Major has its first recording,  Doyen brings this startling, large tone-poem to full life, its opening four-note motif metamorphosed into colossal, chromatic lines whose harmonic sojourns embrace A Major, G Major, and the Liszt key of transcendence, F-sharp Major.  Emotionally, we endure the Liszt dualism of Empyrean heights and Dante’s depths. The titanic, difficult etude to ‘lightness,’ La leggierezza in F Minor, shows off Doyen’s thirds and sixths, in 16ths and agogically irregular, to be no challenge technically, but rather potent and thrilling. Doyen keeps the motion Quasi allegretto without distorting the speed for empty bravura.  The pure fluidity of crossed-hands technique has a sumptuous exponent in Doyen, who could be mistaken for Bolet or poetic Cziffra. Beauty and palpable erotics inhabit this marvelous rendition, in which the art of the arpeggio seems to rise, like Aphrodite, from the waves.

The Zwei Konzertetuden, Waldesrauschen and Gnomenreigen, derive from June and July 1935, the former in a crisp, spectacularly colored reading that might rival that by Josef Hofmann, The D-flat Waldesrauschen achieves a mighty sonority, perhaps an equivalent picture of Shelley’s formidable West Wind. The Dance of the Gnomes in F-sharp minor cavorts and twists in eighth notes and grace notes, often in spectacularly shifting dynamics, none of which impede a whirlwind play from Doyen, mischievous as it is ravishing in sound.

Disc 2 has Doyen’s more virtuosic personality memorialized, first in a 1930 splashy, “symphonic” rendition of Chabrier’s scintillating Espana, in an arrangement Chevillard that will glean the admiration of any connoisseur of fine keyboard execution.  No less color emanates from Doyen’s palette in the same composer’s 1935 Bourree fantasque, that even amidst its flamboyant joie de vivre, maintains a chastity of style.

A rare treat comes to us in the form of Saint-Saens’ ever charming Valse-Caprice, “Wedding Cake,” Op. 76, with Doyen and members of the Cantrelle Quintet (rec. August 1935).  Set in cascading series of piano runs and string pizzicatos in A-flat Major, the piece sports a marvelous melodic turn and impish sense of scale that makes it a bit broad as chamber music.  The music of Faure ensues, a medium thoroughly apt for Doyen’s sensitive touch, beginning with a fluid Barcarolle No. 2 in G Major, Op. 41 (rec. 1935) and moving to the 23 February 1937 record of the Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 63, with its strong Chopin allegiances.

The Debussy group opens with the latest of the recordings, the 15 March 1943 Images, Book I.  The Reflets dans l’eau ripples in oils, a true study in harmonic motion, easily a model for one such as Michelangeli a generation later. The Hommage a Rameau proceeds with a combination of plainchant and vocal parlando.  Then the music assumes more of the pentatonic scale in its noble sarabande, moving as if without a palpable rhythm until a kind of chorale arises and then dies away.  Mouvement proffers a perpetual motion of triplet 16ths, somehow invoking an image of a bevy of bicycles’ spokes in downtown Hong Kong. Those lacquer fighting-fish of the Poissons d’or (rec. 1935) evoke flashes of both water and light in their jerky, pouncing motions.

The piece-de-resistance lies in the 1937 Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, a virtuoso suite inspired by a poem by Aloysius Bertrand but set in a conventional, three-movement sonata-structure.  A mermaid, a corpse, and a monster provide the provocative images for the keyboard’s delectation, perhaps especially Ondine, with its light touch having to define the ripples and cascades of its watery, prism-laden subject. Doyen’s Le gibet, the hanged man, becomes a study in static angst, concentrated on a B-flat that sheds light on a twisting corpse, accompanied by a tolling bell.  Some 20-plus touches realize the B-flat, divided between the hands as studies in pianissimo.  The grotesque Scarbo dwarf likely owes debts to Mussorgsky, whose work Ravel orchestrated.  A study in irregular (Spanish) rhythm, the piece asks the pianist to imitate kettle drums, as well as manipulate the thumb and weak fingers in repeated notes in broken octaves. Doyen accomplishes the well-nigh impossible tasks the piece demands as a model of clarity and expressive force, an example that the likes of Gieseking, Casadesus, and Michelangeli would attempt to emulate.

—Gary Lemco

Track List:
Chopin: Variations on ‘La ci darem la manor’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Op. 2
Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Chopin: Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38
Chopin: Ballade No. in A-flat Major, Op. 47
Chopin: Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Chopin: Waltz No. 6 in D-flat Major “Minute: Op. 64, No .1
Chopin: Waltz No. 11 in G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1
Liszt: 3 Etudes de Concert: No. 1 in A-flat Major “Il lamento”; No. 2 in F minor “La leggierezza”; No. 3 in D-flat Major “Un sospiro”
Liszt: Two Concert Etudes: No. 1 Waldesrauschen; No. 2 “Gnomenreigen”

Chabrier/Chevillard: Espana
Chabrier: Bourre fantasque
Saint-Saens: Valse-Caprice for Piano and Strings, Op. 76 “Wedding Cake”
Faure: Barcarolle No. 2 in G Major, Op. 41
Faure: Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 63
Debussy: Images, Book I
Debussy: Poissons d’or
Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit





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