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DVD Review

In Recital

Beethoven, Bach & Brahms

François-Frédéric Guy, piano
Recorded live at the Serres d'Auteuil, Paris
Kultur DVD D4797 50m Anamorphic Widescreen Dolby 2.0
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François-Frédéric Guy straddles a somewhat dubious divide: he is no longer a "promising" pianistic talent since he has largely delivered on the promise he offered at the outset of his career; yet he has not quite reached the level of international keyboard superstar. Forty-three as I write this, he would seem a cinch to attain that status, but there could be a few bumps on the way there. This DVD, a short concert featuring music by the three B's, may help propel him forward on the road to the upper echelons, even though it may contain a bump or two of its own.

Guy's Beethoven Moonlight Sonata opens with a brisk first movement, definitely a plus here. I cannot understand why so many pianists drag their feet (or, shall I say, hands?) in the opening panel: Schnabel and Cliburn played this movement at a similar tempo and their performances are among the most convincing here. So is Guy's. Moreover, his second movement is spirited and full of sunshine, a gently playful and slightly understated account of this brief, bright panel. The stormy finale, however, is somewhat soft-edged: Guy holds back the ferocity with a bit of rubato as the music scurries along in the upper register. It doesn't disfigure this account in any major way, but it does come across as a quirky touch. In the end, this is an imaginative if slightly eccentric performance of the finale and overall a fine account of the sonata. There have been countless fine recorded efforts of this warhorse, including by Rubinstein, Brendel (three times), and the aforementioned Cliburn and Schnabel, but Guy is probably in their class or near it.

Guy's Bach is somewhat Romanticized, a less driven, less lean-sounding performance than what many may be accustomed to. If, for example, you compare Guy's Bach with that of Glenn Gould's staccato-laden style in this work, you observe two totally different styles, two totally different vantage points that still can co-exist peacefully. Personally, I favor the more fluid playing of Guy, and view Gould as a bit choppy, but concede my view could be a minority one.

The encore in this abbreviated concert is the Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, #1. Guy's performance is on the slow side and would seem the kind of piece NOT to close out a concert with. Still, it's a thoughtful account and I would like to hear him in more Brahms. Sound is excellent on this disc and the camera work is just fine. All in all, this is a fine recording, well worth purchase.

Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings