Germany Debussy, Scarlatti: Alexandre Tharaud (piano), Munich, 29.11.2011 (JFL)
Debussy: Préludes, Premier Livre
D.Scarlatti: Select Sonatas
The performances of Alexandre Tharaud inspire (not just) me to superlatives–which makes it all the more regrettable that recitals and concerts of his are hard to come by if you are outside France or the Netherlands. (Such are the mysterious ways in which concert promoters, agents, and happenstance work.) When the opportunity presented itself to hear him in a radio-recital organized by Bavarian Broadcasting (after last hearing him in Paris in April 2010), I naturally jumped at it: Debussy Préludes and Scarlatti Sonatas? A seemingly ideal program for the Parisian master of miniatures.
With the first few notes of “Danseuses de Delphes”, the softness of his tone and the judiciousness of his touch were obvious. The sonorous surefootedness with which he navigated the BR’s Hamburg Steinway suggested that Tharaud felt comfortable right off the bat; as comfortable as he sounded. Cheeky and busy amid a resolute pulse (“Le vent dan la plaine”), smoothly powerful (“La sérénade interrompue”), and casually tossing notes about with a robust flick of the wrist (“Minstrels”) – the Debussy was an early delight. Only in “Des pas sur le neige” did Tharaud’s deliberateness come close to overtaxing the listener’s capacity to follow the line.
But the undisputed light-weight champion of musical vignettes would best the first half yet, with ten Scarlatti Sonatas after intermission. Curarum Levamen (“Dispelling Worries” – the motto of an early set of Scarlatti’s sonatas), indeed! The bright-eyed spunk of K64, the twitchy flicker of the (unusually slow) K9, the racing K72 (with Tharaud smiling at what his fingers just got away with), the bell-like inwardness of K132, the madly racing palate-cleanser K29, the roughness of K3—with Tharaud testing how much roughing the Steinway’s action can take, the deconstructed K514—suddenly sounding like a computer game jingle, the entrancing-amazing K481, and finally the brusque K141, in equal measure smile and tooth… it was a bracing performance and it made for that rarest of post-concert feelings: rejuvenation.
Tharaud might be 43, but he most certainly has a case of perpetual puppy. That, together with his fragility, weariness, the youthful corners, and much sensitivity, makes for a wonderful mix. But even with his occasional lyrical indulgence, he isn’t a sentimental pianist. Anything but. He grows a set wildly varying, colorful personalities at the keyboard—among them several that are bold and devil-may-care… and those have plenty to wrestle with, in Scarlatti’s “Happy Freaks”. His playful and soft side came out in two of his staple-encores: Bach’s Sicilienne and Couperin’s Tic-Toc-Choc. I was dancing in my seat with joy, trying hard not to annoy those around me.
Jens F. Laurson