PARAY: Seven Piano Pieces – Flavio Varani, piano – MSR

by | Apr 1, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PARAY: Seven Piano Pieces = Sur la mer; Theme and variations; D’une Âme; Impromptu; Impressions; Tarentelle; Valse in F# Minor – Flavio Varani, piano – MSR MS 1831 (12/2/22) (78:02) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Although principally trained by Brazilian virtuoso Magda Tagliaferro, pianist Flavio Varani considers himself an exponent of French music; and here, he explores the solo keyboard legacy of (conductor) Paul Paray (1886-1979), who gained renown by having led the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The youthful works surveyed embrace the years 1903-1914, each tracing a search for an identity that would not be merely derivative of such luminaries as Fauré, Roussel, Chabrier, and Debussy, but indicative of an independent, musical imagination. As pianist Varani explains, “My curiosity was soon converted to enthusiasm in discovering an ignored composer of such high quality. . .an ennobling capacity of a life devoted to the art of music.”

Varani begins with the 1910 Sur la mer, an F# Major, seaside canvas in ternary form that undulates in gently angular, impressionistic figures. The music moves into the relative minor for more aquarelles in strummed tropes, and then a new tune emerges in the original key. The water context proves rich in arpeggiated harmony, not too far from Ravel’s Ondine, but not so invested with malice.

Paray’s extensive Theme and variations (1913) is the product of a sojourn in Rome, its form essentially a theme in B-flat Major and nine variants. By the fourth variation, we can hear the influence of the chromaticism favored by Franck, whose orchestral music Paray championed. The usual variation techniques abound, such as syncopations, arabesque 16ths and triplets, some the of episodes reminiscent of having studied Rameau, with tis echoes of antique style. Variation 5 proffers a miniature, Baroque toccata. The next variation exudes the character of a hearty march. The tonality shifts to E-flat Major for Variation 7, a study in the mode of Schumann, a composer equally alluded to in the rhythmic accents in the Vogel als Prophet from Kinderszenen.  The last Variation 9 has a brief arpeggio introduction before it demonstrates an etude character in martial staccatos from competing registers. The piece ends with a celebratory coda.

D’une Âme (1914) presents a suite of nine pieces designated “Of a soul.” These character sketches result from Paray’s having been imprisoned in Darmstadt during WW I, much in anticipation of Messiaen’s travails in the next generation. Each miniature reflects a mood of the soul. Fervente lingers on a solitary motif in passionate moments of color, some of them jazzy. Naïve offers a two-part invention in the manner of impressionist harmony. Légère enjoys a brightly martial suasion close to Schumann. 

Rêveuse (dreamy) is marked Lento e capriccioso, an extended reverie that flits and accelerates, even passionately for a moment, in a broken style close to Satie. Malicieuse conveys its spiteful character in bouncy figures, close to Chabrier or Poulenc, ending rudely, without formality. Both restless and impassioned, Fantasque captures the whimsy of the moment, one of which resembles Schumann from his D Minor Symphony. Inquiète et passionnée reveals its agitation from the first, its syncopated, three-note melody’s achieving a lyric similar to moments in Grieg. aTranquille, no doubt an ironic appellation, proves the longest to perform of the set, opens in dark, resolute chords, marked by aggressive accents and askew harmonies akin to those from Fauré, cross-fertilized by jumpy Iberia and fervent Chopin. The concluding picture, Joyeuse, assails us with a sparkling toccata, a sprit of Scarlatti’s Spain now colored by familiarity with dance-hall Debussy and the bells of Ravel.

Varani returns to the Paray of 1910, with his Impromptu in E Minor, a lushly elaborate journey in romantic rhetoric, most often reminiscent of Gabriel Fauré’s impassioned and rhapsodical style. The middle section in the major mode articulates agitated expressiveness in a liquid, salon style fluently colored in the Chabrier tradition. The three Impressions (1913) bear a dedication to Mademoiselle Henriette Cahen. Nostalgie  irin C# reminds one of Chopin’s E Minor Prelude or, even more prominently, the middle section of the “Raindrop” Prelude. Composed in Rome, it likely expresses a sense of longing for home. The second piece, Eclarcie, alludes to a break in a swarm of thick clouds. The music at first proceeds sweetly, calmly, until a section, più animato, turns into a music-hall evocation. The motif impulse informs the final piece, Primesaut, or “first impulse,” an ironic, extended moment of waltz that Chabrier or Satie could claim as his own. 

The 1903 Tarentelle of Paray clearly (in the trio section) has Chopin for a model from that composer’s Op. 43, but the choice of key (G# Minor) and the Italian context place the work near Liszt’s most famous homage to Italy, his La Campanella. The heavily accented dance whirls in comparatively gentle tropes, mostly martial, with some resonant bass harmony. 

Varani closes out this tour of piano music now escaping from eclipse with the encore, the1906 Waltz in F# Minor (so designated in French), whose manuscript, left unfinished, finds completion here by our performer by simply reprising the opening figures. The repeated swirls in popular style resemble Ravel or Saint-Saens. Composers who outshine Paray as a composer do so only because he conceded to their mastery when he ascended the podium.

—Gary Lemco

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