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“Seven Piano Pieces”
Paul Paray: Sur la mer – Thème et Variations – D’une âme – Impromptu in E minor – Impressions – Tarantelle – Waltz in F‑Sharp minor

Flavio Varani (piano)
Recording: CBC Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada (March 13, 2019) – 78’02
MSR Classics MS 1831 – Booklet in English and French

Those who grew up in The United States with libraries surrounded by 33‑1/3 rpm vinyls perched upon the shelves may well recall the name of Paul Paray gracing the sleeves, keenly advertising his talents as conductor under the Mercury Living Presence record label. But this is a mere “scratching of the surface”. While better known as a prominent conductor of French and Russian orchestral music of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was, yet, another dimension of this composer. Paul Paray created his own musical legacy with strong guardianship in originality of composition, despite the paucity of publicity until recently.

Brazilian Flavio Varani has been entranced by French piano music, citing works by Debussy, Ravel, Hahn and Poulenc which he’s readily performed. Debuting with MSR Classics on this release, he’s now teamed up with musician and Paray‑expert Father Eduard Perrone (who originally collected and edited the complete compendium of Paray’s solo piano works) to fastidiously hand-pick seven invigorating piano pieces. Father Perrone’s write‑up unveils a fascinating examination of Paray en total.

While Paul Paray could splendidly conjure subjects with a tangible draw (ref: Sur la mer), he stepped forward in wide strides with the cerebral intangibles of human emotions. The human temperament pulled from the Le Tréport native was like a magnetic current, with a vastly novel scope and, at times, capitalizing on more modernistic twists. Despite his affections and influences of Gabriel Fauré, the landscape he fashioned was uniquely his own.

Back in 1913 Paul Paray journeyed to Rome where he composed his emblematic outline, Thème et Variations. In this selection, M. Varani plucks through this compact cache of nine mini tableaux with marked separation, like clever appendages growing out of the nascent opening “Thème”. Indelible and revealing. Though all variations yield a robust spectrum of tasteful continuity, “Variation 8”, in particular , has a weightier and more robust narrative, especially when saddled up against Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet. Yet the conclusive arpeggios in “Variation 9” yield gleeful reminder to those from “Variation 1”, and they regale in grand summary.

The opening Sur la mer is an idyllic aqueous meander on the surface of the water. Here, we distantly turn our sights with a backward glance to Debussy's well‑known 1905 La Mer.

We’re also witness to the seismic and indelible textures inside D’une âme. This is a gamut of emotion, cleverly drawn and displayed with novelties of brilliance: for example, the religiosities of “Fervente”, the somber overtones of “Naïve”, the unresolved “Rêveuse”, and the nicely transitioning contrasts between “Inquiète et Passionnée” and “Tranquille”. Each passage brims with freshness.

M. Paray also conveyed his feelings in his 1910 Impromptu: we hear an incessant font of runs, meandering with blissful intelligence, at times itchy and prickly. Flavio Varani strongly pulls forth interesting, pulsating and quixotic moments of Paray’s composition in striking sophistication and broad finesse.

Again, the wave of “pensive reflections” is unveiled in the tripartite Impressions, beginning with a lugubrious “Nostalgie” expansion that is grounded by a determined ostinato, covering the air with tones of gray sobriety. “Eclaircie” is visionary, in an attempt for the sun to break through the clouds with the most positive of ambitions...the glances are hopeful and optimistic. A free‑based whimsy carries forward into the conclusive “Primesaut” with its signs of coy sassiness, though simultaneously ambitious with youthful intelligence. Stunning.

Nothing could be more resplendent than the Tarentelle with its whirling fascinations. M. Varani interprets this passage with an assortment of colorful bands, and cheeky dynamics. The closing Valse in F‑Sharp minor, though unfinished by the composer, was completed by M. Perrone which has acumen and logical touches in capturing the frivolously impish-like gyrations in 3/4 time.

Key to this recording centers around a well-selected representation of piano music by Paul Paray. This CD is a sparkling charm. Highly recommended.

Christie Grimstad




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