Charles Owen

Fauré: The Complete Nocturnes

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One of the most fascinating, rewarding, and historically significant cycles in all of classical piano literature is the 13 Nocturnes, composed between 1875 and 1921 by French composer Gabriel Fauré. They begin in a solidly romantic style that approximates the model of Chopin, though with a number of significant differences. Even by the second Nocturne, there is a slight proclivity toward a nascent impressionistic harmony, which begins to surface with vehemence by the sixth. By the thirteenth and final Nocturne, the seventy-something Fauré was nearly standing at the brink of atonality, and that is one of the fascinating things about this cycle; it forms a microcosm of the transition between the romantic and modern. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fauré's Nocturnes have largely become the domain of French pianists -- Pascal Rogé and Jean-Philippe Collard are among several French artists who have contributed reputable complete recorded cycles -- however, England's Kathryn Stott has also done them for Hyperion. This Avie release features a young English pianist, Charles Owen, in his third solo outing; Owen is so far best known as a sensitive and sympathetic accompanist to star string players like violinist Katherine Gowers and cellist Natalie Clein. Owen's is a strong entry indeed; one aspect of his interpretive way with Fauré's Nocturnes that sets them apart is that he doesn't feel obligated to traditional notions of tempo rubato, and he allows us to hear some of the interesting rhythmic figures that are sometimes bobbing around in the midst of Fauré's texture. This is particularly helpful in the early Nocturnes, for example the second, that can sound a little derivative and empty if played in a thoroughly traditional manner; the sixth and seventh nocturnes are outstanding: warm, colorful, and expressive. Avie's recording is aimed more toward warmth and is a bit dark and muted, and although it really doesn't hurt the music, there are some stray flecks of sunlight rather incongruously placed here and there in Fauré's cycle and such odd details here are a bit restrained. However, Avie's Fauré: The Complete Nocturnes can certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with the typical French efforts, and it is of such quality that it makes you want to go back and check out his Poulenc and Janácek recordings, as well.

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