Lucas Debargue displays his beautiful, burnished sound in a superb Wigmore Hall recital

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Franck/Debargue, Ravel, Scriabin, Liszt: Lucas Debargue (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 24.4.2022. (CC)

Lucas Debargue

Franck/DebargueTrois Pièces pour grand orgue (1878): Fantaisie
RavelGaspard de la nuit (1908)
ScriabinFantasie in B minor, Op.28 (1900)
LisztAnnées de pèlerinage, deuxième année, Italie, S 161 (1838-61): Après une lecture de Dante

Lucas Debargue has always struck me as one of the finest of the young generation of pianists. His questing allows him to bring fresh light to known repertoire while seeking out ever new combinations. Nowhere was this adventuring spirit more obvious than in his own transcription of one of César Franck’s Trois Pièces pour grand orgue, the ‘Fantaisie in A’. Franck’s characteristic chromaticism met the spirit of Liszt. Debargue’s understanding of Franck’s use of gesture was magnificent, as was his realisation of multiple, simultaneous lines. Add to this Debargue’s beautiful, burnished sound and the result was meltingly beautiful.

Debargue’s recording of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit has rightly been lauded; but live he is even finer, the melodic lines of the opening ‘Ondine’ even more vocal in orientation. A perfectly judged unfolding (how even the lines, especially that left-hand ascent) before the atmospheric ‘Le Gibet’ offered a masterclass in sonority. Sustaining the music’s energy and atmosphere brought the audience to complete silence: this was mesmerising, and utterly, darkly, beautiful. On a technical level in terms of control, it was every inch as impressive as the pyrotechnics of the final ‘Scarbo’, where the rapid repetitions on one note fizzed with an energy that had to be released in the big pianistic explosions. Splashes of colour assailed the senses while we keenly felt the modernism of Ravel’s writing: Jackson Pollock’s Impressionist phase perhaps! A stunning interpretation.

The choice of Scriabin’s Fantasie, Op.28 could hardly be finer: it opens almost like a prolongation of the Ravel before a bass harmonic twist plunges us into unmistakable Scriabin territory. This piece shared with Berg’s Piano Sonata not only tonality (B minor) but a surface avoidance of cadences in that key (although Berg uses it to clearly mark the end of the exposition). Debargue sculpted the piece perfectly, timing climaxes to perfection and never occluding textures, not once; he also maintained a golden tone through a fortissimo chordal climax, and in so doing enabled the piece to appear as one long arch. Superb – as was the final item, Liszt’s ‘other’ sonata, the so-called ‘Dante Sonata’ from the second book of travel. Yes, this piece is virtuoso, but it also should burn with the diabolical – as it did here. Not since the days of Jorge Bolet in live performance have I heard Liszt being played like this – perfectly attuned to the composer’s voice, technically impeccable, with a grand sense of gesture, its octave recitatives so incredibly powerful, and with the opening descents given the perfect amount of space to register, and again that gorgeous sound.

An encore was a given: it was dedicated to the memory of Radu Lupu and Nicholas Angelich and was another part of the repertoire Debargue excels in: Scarlatti, his Sonata in D minor, Kk 32 (L 423), a ruminative and heartfelt song of lament – and simultaneously a reminder of Debargue’s superb set of 52 Scarlatti Sonatas. If Debargue’s Liszt is the finest since Bolet, his Scarlatti is cut from the finest cloth too: on the piano, perhaps only Marcelle Meyer’s 1950s recordings of 58 sonatas (one of which was this D minor) deserves to be spoken of in the same breath.

Colin Clarke

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