ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Jules Massenet - Piano Works


JULES MASSENET - Complete Solo Piano Works - Stefan Irmer (Piano) - 760623172927 - Released: January 2012 - MDG 6181729

1 - Grande Fantaisie sur le Pardon de Ploërmel
2 - Dix pièces de genre, Op. 10
3 - Le roman d'Arlequin. Pantomime enfantine
4 - Sept improvisations
5 - Toccata
6 - Deux impressions
7 - Un Momento musicale
8 - Devant la Madone
9 - Valse folle
10- Valse très lente
11- Musique pour bercer les petits enfants
12- Deux pièces pour piano

Except for a discontinued older recording on EMI by Aldo Ciccolini, most of the solo piano music of Jules Massenet (1842-1912) has always been served to us piecemeal, sometimes combined with works by stylistically distant composers, or mixed in, here and there, within haphazard and inconsistent compilations that never get played more than once due to their attention deficit inducing qualities. So it is encouraging to see a top rank label like MDG and a steadfast advocate of neglected piano music like Stefan Irmer collaborate to give this influential French composer's piano music the respect it deserves.

In late 19th century France, music was very much a product of the lyric stage and opera libretto, so no one paid attention to anything else. This may explain why Massenet's piano output was limited in size and spread out over a period of forty years. Most of it was written as a diversion when ever time allowed. Surprising when you consider the inborn richness and imagination of each and every piece. Not to say that this music is anywhere near the harmonic perplexity of say Alexander Scriabin, who lived during the same time period, but as in his many operas, the diversity of style and the unapologetically conservative manner are always used to serve the music and raise it up a notch. It is said that there is a little bit of Massenet in every Frenchman of whatever generation, and his influence can be felt from Chausson, to Debussy and Ravel.

Although these piano pieces are never technically taxing, or never require an over-the-top romantic approach from the musician interpreting them, they do in fact contain enough drama and demand a constant level of pianistic agility. It is not an easy task to fully develop a musical idea within the framework of a miniature, which most of these pieces are, but Massenet displayed his mastery by doing just that. And pianist Stefan Irmer takes delight in uncovering the source of life at the root of each and everyone of these pieces. From the versatile touches of the Sept improvisations, to the darker colors of the Deux impressions, to the Debussyesque effects of Papillons noirs from the Deux pièces pour piano, he constantly injects his playing with a sense of discovery and brings out what others may have overlooked.

The 1901 Steinway Concert Grand model D used in this recording sounds like it was tailor-made for this music. It has a bright and solid midrange that well projects this music's sunny and stoic constitution. A great disc for all the pianophiles out there.

Jean-Yves Duperron - February 2012