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The Daniel Ericourt Piano Artist Residency, now in its fourth installment, insures a welcome sampling of French music, a repertoire generally neglected in our state. Daniel Ericourt was a master interpreter of the music of Debussy besides having a wide keyboard repertoire. He was artist-in-residence at the University of North Carolina Greensboro for 13 years beginning in 1963. Older music lovers may remember his WUNC-TV program, "The Ericourt Forum of Music and the Arts." His famous recording of Debussy's "complete" piano music on the Kapp Records was reissued in a limited CD edition on the Ivory Classics label. This concert's program in UNCG's lovely Recital Hall was a real winner, a two-for-one triumph. Internationally renowned pianist Pascal Rogé was featured in a fine, wide-ranging solo recital before intermission. Afterwards he was joined by his wife, Ami, for three unique pieces featuring two pianos.
Pascal Rogé's solo program, at his request, was played without pause between each selection. The thirteen Nocturnes of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) make up his finest single group of piano pieces. The composer's first three were published in 1883 as Opus 33. Nocturne No. 1, in E-flat minor, opens with an expressive melody before a stormy central section leads back to the gentle mood of the opening. Eric Satie (1886-1925), fond of novel names for his compositions, coined the word Gnossiénne for several piano pieces. Sources argue whether it was derived from 'gnosis" since Satie was involved with Gnostic sects at the time or from "Knossos" or "gnossus" and linked to the Minotaur myth of Ancient Greece. Rogé's program did not identify which "Deux Gnossiénnes" he played but Joseph Di Piazza responded to my query. Gnossiénnes No. 3 and No. 5 were played; both are gentle, slow, dance-like pieces.
Rogé's next two selections are well-known at least to musical Francophiles! Claude Debussy (1862-1918) completed the three movement Estampes (Woodcuts) in 1903. Using the pentatonic scale, he conjures an oriental atmosphere in the first movement, called "Pagodes" (Pagodas). Next, "La Soirées dans Grenade" (Evening in Granada) evokes Andalusia, with imaginative touches one could scarcely credit to a percussion instrument, such as the suggestion of strumming guitars. "Jardins sous la Pluie" (Gardens in the rain) describes a French garden during an extremely violent rainstorm. The sounds of wind blowing and raindrops falling are evoked. In Sonatine (1905), Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) combines classical elements with those of twentieth century music. Its three movements are unified by themes stemming from similar origins. The theme of the first movement is varied and transformed in the remaining two movements. Ravel's changes in tempo and accents help prevent the middle "Minuet" from becoming a waltz.
Instead of the program's listed Improvisation No. 5 in A minor by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Rogé played Improvisation No. 15 in C Major (1959), "Hommage á Edith Piaf," which is like a song without words. The solo portion of the concert ended with Poulenc's effervescent and witty Toccata.
The Steinway Grand piano Rogé played had been tuned to within a micron of its life and the playing of Rogé was a masterclass in both the style and the technique for interpreting the French repertoire. His kaleidoscopic range of tonal color and subtle dynamics, too, were breath-taking. His attacks were precise no matter how fast the tempo. The seamless sequence of selections, aided by an appreciative and disciplined audience, helped to highlight the relationships between and among the composers.
After intermission, Pascal Rogé was joined by his wife, Ami, for a delightful selection of works written for or transcribed for two pianos. Poulenc's Sonata for Two Pianos (1953) was dedicated to the Gold-Fizdale Duo,and it has the composer's characteristic angular scoring with distinctive harmonies and bouncy, edgy rhythms. Its pungent score brought to mind fleeting remembrances of the composer's opera Les Dialogues des Carmélites (1953) or his Gloria (1961).
Their other two selections are more familiar in their original orchestral versions. Some have said some of the best twentieth century Spanish music was composed by French composers. Rhapsodie Espagnole (1907) by Ravel is a prime example, with its four movements throbbing with Spanish dance rhythms such as the second movement's "Malagueña" and the third movement's "Habanera." L'Apprenti Sorcier (1897) of Paul Dukas (1865-1935) was fascinating in its keyboard guise. How would they conjure up the famous contrabassoon theme as the ill-considered magic spell begins to work?
Pascal and Ami played these duo piano works with the tight ensemble of chamber musicians of long experience. Attacks and releases were exact, and every twist and turn of rhythm or dynamics was met. This was an especially satisfying evening of music!