Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Poland

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Mentored by Arthur Rubinstein, the French pianist Marc Laforêt studied with Pierre Sancan at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1985 he won the Young Concert Artist International Auditions in New York, and ran second to Stanislav Bunin (a very different kind of musician) in the International Chopin Competition, taking additionally the audience and mazurka prizes. Courting the more perfumed echelons of bon vivant society, his personally visioned Grands Crus Musicaux festival, founded in 2003, is an annual opulence centered around fine Bordeaux wines and tastings, local château heritage, and stellar performers. Veritably old-world Gallic passion and connoisseur art, unapologetically elevated and elitist.

With only a modest discography and still less publicity, he hasn’t come my way much. But the Chopin Institute look after their own, and this Master Recital was an agreeable opportunity to get re-acquainted. Now in his mid-fifties, Lisztian hair swept back, fuller of figure than I remember, his profile more worn and wise, his eyes letting us glimpse something of the man and soul within, he offered a selection of pieces that for years have been central to his programming.

Best overall perhaps, certainly the most seductively surprising, was Mozart’s Viennese C-major Sonata, K330. Laforêt opened his Washington début with this, back in 1987. Three days later the Washington Post’s critic, Joan Reinthaler, opined: “Before Mozart (and the other composers who wrote human dramas) becomes part of his natural discourse, he needs to learn to think like a singer, preferably an Italian singer. He needs to allow music the space to breathe and the leisure to develop, and he needs to enjoy music’s sensuality as much as he already enjoys its muscularity.” Who knows if he ever saw this review, let alone took notice, but more than thirty years on, a life in the living, he’s anything but that young man starting out. Here was a sensitive reading lined with characters and incident, each phrase and ornament shaped and cadenced, clarity of articulation paramount. The Andante combined grace, cantabile and gran espressione, the touch soft yet firm, the tone limpid, the tenor of the music floated above the firmest of formal structures, the tempo galant yet yielding. The Finale was a delicious buffa cameo, a responsive Steinway accommodating each nuance and dynamic subtlety. Grandly rolled chords at the end, Horowitz style – not what Mozart wrote (nor Neue Mozart publish) but who’s complaining about a whiff of Beethoven teasing us around the corner?

The Chopin group was flanked by familiar warhorses – the First Ballade and Second Scherzo. Again, a strong sense of structure in both, the impact of varied written-out repeats in the latter coming across vividly, curtains of virtuosity in abundance. The Ballade, largely a technical tour de force, began and finished with dramatic authority, the bardic theatre of the introduction judged to a nicety. I’d have preferred the pianissimo cadence figures of the E-flat Meno mosso to have been more expressively elongated – but in forcing them home in the fortissimo reprise Laforêt reminded that here in fact Chopin wanted them characterised contrariwise, con forza sempre forte. Four Mazurkas (Opus 30) spoke a little plainly, but four Waltzes (Opus 34/1 & 2; Opus 64/2 & 1) were miraculously painted, a Golden Age aura about their glitter, counterpointed dreams and Parisian wraiths. Gorgeous. Long-breathed, un-mannered, full-throated, ornaments purling, the D-flat Nocturne, Opus 27/2 cast its magic, time near stopping. For encore, the F-minor Mazurka from Opus 7, brisk and crystalline with a touch of bass malignance.

Aristocratic. An artist at the peak of his intellect and facility.