“Voyage à Paris” – POULENC: Improvisations Nos. 13 & 15; DEBUSSY: Minstrels; The Sunken Cathedral, Fireworks; FRANCK: Prélude, Choral et Fugue; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit suite; MESSIAEN: Regard de l’Esprit de joie – Greg McCallum piano – MSR Classics MS 1233, 72:01 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
A very nice idea for turning a recital of 19th and 20th century piano music into a concept album. The two little Poulenc pieces are seldom heard and epitomize a sort of Parisian mood. The three Debussy selections illustrate how that composer revolutionized music for the piano. His masterpiece The Sunken Cathedral creates an impressive programmatic structure using echoes of bells, chants, early organ music, and the rising and falling waters.
The architectural structure of Franck’s work fits in well with the photo of the Eiffel Tower on the CD’s cover. This is the earliest of all the works and was the first composition for piano which the composer had written after 40 years of works mostly for organ or for orchestra. Strongly utilized Franck’s cyclical style, it makes use of variations of the chorale theme and parts of the fugue theme thruout the work. In the third part of the Ravel suite – Skarbo – McCallum deftly brings out the Gothically dark and threatening musical depiction of the diabolical dwarf. The totally individual aesthetic of Olivier Messiaen is sampled in the closing selection from his 20 Regards of the Infant Jesus. From the foundation of his devout Catholic faith Messiaen created music that – in his own words – was iridescent, voluptuous, a theological rainbow, and like a stained-glass window. Bird song is another major element in his music, but this work comes before he ventured into serialism in his later works.
McCallum plays a German Steinway and the sonics are exceptionally realistic and wide range. There is a reference to a special technology used in the recording. Although limited to the 44.1K/16bit resolution of CDs, the final result is a cut above many other piano CDs.
– John Sunier