Bizet’s Piano Music, Delectably Delivered

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Bizet’s piano music occasionally attracts the attention of enterprising pianists, including Nathanaël Gouin, a French pianist who first came to my attention via his scintillating recording of Edouard Lalo’s Piano Concerto on Alpha. He brings welcome lightness of touch and subtle timbral differentiation to Bizet’s six charming miniatures comprising Chants du Rhin (Songs of the Rhine). The repeated-note “raindrops” in the third piece, Les rêves, foreshadow a rainbow up ahead, while La Bohémienne’s double notes lithely dance off the page. What is more, Gouin pedals liberally, yet masterfully.

Collectors who learned Bizet’s Variations chromatiques from Glenn Gould’s tersely hard-nosed world premiere recording will be surprised and perhaps relieved by Gouin’s curvier flexibility. On the other hand, his gentle, somewhat understated way with the Minuet from Rachmaninov’s L’arlésienne Suite lacks the rhythmic backbone and orchestral thrust of Rachmaninov’s own amazing recording.

Gouin’s virtuosity comes fully into its own throughout Bizet’s skillfully scored solo piano transcription of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2. Yes, Bizet actually scales down the solo piano part and full orchestral score within the compass of ten human fingers! Incredibly enough, the music never sounds cluttered, but that also is due to Gouin’s dazzling agility. He tosses off the Scherzo’s rapid scales as if they were child’s play, and never lets the energy flag for a nanosecond in the demanding Tarantella-like finale. A delectable disc.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Sans Paroles
Reference Recording: Bizet Piano Works: This one; Julia Severus (Naxos)

    Chants du Rhin; La Romance de Nadir; Variations chromatiques; L’arlésienne: Minuet (transcribed by Rachmaninov)
    Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 (arr. by Bizet for piano solo)
  • Nathanaël Gouin (piano)

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