John Chen

Henri Dutilleux: Complete Solo Piano Music

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Henri Dutilleux may be excused for producing a small oeuvre since he has always been a fastidious craftsman who never turns out mediocre music but only his most refined work. It should come as no surprise, then, that a survey of his complete piano music would easily fit on a single CD, and that, aside from the robust Sonata for piano (1948), the atmospheric Trois Préludes (1973, 1977, and 1988), and the witty neo-Classical suite Au gré des ondes (1946), most of his keyboard pieces would be under three minutes in length and succinct in character. Such restraint in music is rare, and the discipline Dutilleux displays in his miniatures reveals the concentration of his thought. If brevity is not necessarily the main point of Bergerie (1947), Blackbird (1950), Tous les chemins...mènent à Rome (1961), and Résonances (1965) -- all poetic character pieces with clear imagery -- it is directly stated in the titles of the undated Petit air à dormir debout and the Mini-prélude en éventail, Dutilleux' briefest and most economical squibs. Pianist John Chen might be expected to lavish his attentions on the major works and pull back a little in the rest of his program; but his focus throughout is steady, his energy is unflagging, and his mastery of Dutilleux's mutable language encompasses the density of the sonata as well as the transparency of the Mini-prélude. Naxos provides exceptional sound, and the full range of Chen's dynamics is reproduced with great fidelity.

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