Naxos is traversing what looks to be a complete cycle of Gabriel Fauré's piano music. It's an admirable project; here's a body of work that's rewarding, fairly large, and infrequently played. This CD contains what probably are two of Fauré's most famous pieces - the Pavane and the "Sicilienne" from Pelléas - although they are more frequently heard in their orchestral guise. The other works are not the composer's most typical. The middle-aged composer wrote the four Valses-caprices over the course of more than a decade. The first two are flirtatious and pay a debt to Chopin; the latter two, while retaining their elegance, are also more intimate. The Mazurka, Chopinesque as well, misses the rhythmic and melodic simplicity of the Polish master's works in this genre. It's salon music, albeit of high quality.
Opinions concerning Volondat's playing are mixed. Some critics have found his Fauré unsympathetic, and others have called him a fine stylist. Who do you believe? Certainly there have been other pianists - Pascal Rogé, for example - who play Fauré more succulently than this. Volondat is matter-of-fact in this repertoire, particularly when the music seems to be striving for superficial elegance. His thoughtfulness depletes Fauré's music of some of its civilized allure. Volondat can surprise listeners, though, with sudden tempo adjustments or dynamic emphases. For the most part, I find his playing easy to live with. It doesn't close the door on the competition, however. Similarly, the engineering has been criticized for being muddy and recessed, but Naxos' production and engineering team seems to have worked things out this time around. I'd say this CD, while not perfect, gives good value, and it's more than a stopgap.
Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle