Record­ing of the Month

De la nuit Dénes Vár­jon

BBC Music Magazine - - Contents -

‘Dénes Vár­jon plays with shin­ing space and grace, favour­ing an ob­jec­tiv­ity that’s never de­tach­ment’

Schu­mann: Fan­tasi­estücke; Ravel: Gas­pard de la nuit; Bartók: Im Freien

Dénes Vár­jon (pi­ano)

ECM 2521 63.17 mins

Dénes Vár­jon is the lat­est Apollo among pi­anists, shar­ing a place in the pan­theon with the sim­i­larly ori­ented Nikolai Lu­gan­sky. Both play with shin­ing space and grace, favour­ing an ob­jec­tiv­ity that’s never de­tach­ment. Lu­gan­sky’s spe­cial trans­for­ma­tions have largely been re­served for Rach­mani­nov; Vár­jon sets the seal at the start here on sim­i­lar cre­den­tials in Schu­mann. ★e im­pressed in the com­poser’s vi­o­lin sonatas with Carolin Wid­mann on an ear­lier re­lease, but now he has the imag­i­na­tive stage for him­self. And how mys­te­ri­ously that imag­i­na­tion can shine in the ★off­man­nin­spired Fan­tasi­estücke

(Fan­tasy Pieces), where feel­ing needs to be ever-present but tran­scen­dent, the con­stant shifts of mood ap­par­ent with­out any ob­vi­ous changes of gear.

Vár­jon moves swiftly be­tween numbers, join­ing the puz­zle-pieces with­out ever giv­ing us the com­plete picture. With Schu­mann, it’s never quite there; that’s the point. Elu­sive in­tel­li­gence makes its sub­tle im­pres­sion in the open­ing ‘Des Abends’ (In the Even­ing): the de­cep­tively sim­ple seem­ing step­wise de­scents and as­cents can come across as repet­i­tive, but an air-tread­ing pulse al­lows for magic on each re­frain.

The se­quence has night­pic­tures at the heart of the Schu­mann and of Bartók’s

Im Freien (Out of Doors), with the cen­tral panel of the three-com­poser trip­tych en­tirely de­voted to the in­fi­nite noc­tur­nal va­ri­ety of Ravel’s

Gas­pard de la nuit. Both Schu­mann and Bartók in their time ap­proved ex­trac­tion of in­di­vid­ual numbers in their se­quences, but there’s no doubt that Vár­jon’s con­nect­ing in­tel­li­gence makes each set as a whole in­dis­pen­si­ble. No won­der, given this read­ing, that Schu­mann was proud­est of ‘In der nacht’, with its mirac­u­lous but seem­ingly nat­u­ral mod­u­la­tions. Its enig­matic tur­bu­lence sits eas­ily here be­tween the caprices of ‘Grillen’ and ‘Fa­bel’, mean­ing­less with­out an in­ter­preter of Vár­jon’s un­pre­dictabil­ity.

In the Ravel, the ini­tial dif­fi­culty is in strik­ing a su­per­nat­u­ral bal­ance be­tween the droplets through which the soul­ful­ness of the wa­ter­nymph On­dine emerges and the poignant melodic phrases. The supreme ex­am­ple in tran­scen­dent clar­ity of ar­tic­u­la­tion is Idil Biret; Vár­jon’s spe­cial magic, how­ever, is re­served for the moment when just a sin­gle line is heard, eerie

An un­remit­tingly bewitching programme and per­fectly en­gi­neered

in a greeny-blue spot­light.

‘Le Gi­bet’ (The Gal­lows) is hyp­no­tism through the most beau­ti­ful of key­board and recorded sounds; ‘Scarbo’, Ravel’s fe­ro­cious ver­sion of Robin Good­fel­low, may not be as tem­pes­tu­ous a trou­ble­maker as some here, but re­mains an­other crea­ture of the mys­te­ri­ous night.

The low bass and high dy­namic level of Bartók’s open­ing piece al­low Vár­jon finally to let rip, but again there’s a poise which probes the heart of each al fresco sketch with due con­sid­er­a­tion. Not sur­pris­ingly, the night mu­sic with its bird­song and cricket calls is the heart of this se­quence.

This is an un­remit­tingly bewitching programme and per­fectly en­gi­neered; I can’t wait to hear Vár­jon live, ex­tend­ing be­yond the hour’s-worth here. PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★★ RECORD­ING ★★★★★

Key­board ma­gi­cian: Vár­jon record­ing in the Au­di­to­rio Ste­lio Molo RSI, Lugano, Italy

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