Sunday, March 2, 2008

Review: Pascal Rogé

March 1, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

Pascal Rogé, the eminent French pianist, turned what might have been a didactic exercise – a survey of the forms of piano music that Chopin bequeathed to subsequent generations of French composers – into two long suites of exquisite pianism and well-judged stylistic contrast.

Rogé began with three examples of the nocturne, with Chopin’s unusually stark, even severe Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1, bracketed by the more sensuous first nocturnes of Fauré and Poulenc. He went on to contrast three waltzes from Ravel’s "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" with the familiar Chopin Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2; and three Chopin etudes, Op. 25, Nos. 1 and 10, and Op. 10, No. 12, with the great "Etude pour les arpèges composées" of Debussy. All that flowed with pauses of no more than two seconds between pieces.

The less crowded but no less formidable second half featured Chopin’s preludes in D flat major, Op. 28, No. 15, and B minor, Op. 28, No. 6 and six Debussy preludes, including the familiar "La Fille aux Cheveux de lin" and "La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune," between the little-known Ballade of Debussy and much-loved Ballade in F minor, Op. 52, of Chopin.

The most lingering impressions Rogé left were of clarity and moderation. He showed few flashes of temperament, even in Chopin’s fiery B minor Etude and the tempestuous measures of Op. 52, and adhered strictly – not quite pedantically – to the tempos and ritards of the dance pieces.

Compensating for this seeming lack of spontaneity, the pianist exposed every strand and faithfully rendered every subtlety of harmony and color in this music. He let it speak for itself, which it did with memorable eloquence.