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Nuance and tenderness

New York
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall
12/11/2013 -  
Claude-Achille Debussy: Préludes, Book II
Franz Liszt: Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
César Franck: Prélude, Choral et Fugue

Célimène Daudet (Pianist)

C. Daudet (© Hadrien Daudet)

From the moment she stepped on stage at Weill Recital Hall last night, Célimène Daudet created her own milieu. With the face of a shy but mischievous teenager, she was dressed à la Debussy En Blanc (blouse) et Noir (trousers). Barely looking at the audience (save for a nasty scowl at one of the Ipad camera flashers), her performance proclaimed to the world that even in her Carnegie Hall debut, youth didn’t preclude three works which challenged not only her fingers but her mind.

Then again, Ms. Daudet has gone her own way from the beginning, French born with a Haitian-French lineage, she has imitated those 18th Century French musicians at the court of Catherine the Great, by making her name in Russia as teacher and performer. She has given Presidential Command performance in Malta and Algeria, relishes the dance as well as the piano, playing piano in several choreographic productions, and in between performing, she has recorded Bach, teaches at the Parisian Saint-Saëns Conservatory, and has her own festival.

So when Ms. Daudet sat down and dreamily went into Debussy’s Mists to begin the complete second book of Préludes, one felt that with her modest confidence, she was performing for herself in her own studio or her own home. Not one to worry about starting the usual audience-pleaser to show off her talents, she performed all twelve piece with an instinctive adoration of the piano, an elegant touch, and a Gallic insouciance.

The latter could have been annoying, but had she attempted to make each section a dramatic section, she would have lost Debussy’s own atmosphere.

“This”, Ms. Daudet seemed to say, “happens to be my Debussy. But since you’re here, you may as well enjoy my show.”

Few pianists can grip an audience attention with the complete book. Gieseking probably could do it, as could Casadesus and my recording of Samson François I love because he grips through eccentricity.

But the youthful Ms. Daudet needed no gimmicks or idiosyncrasies. Although she wove the cloud of playing around us, perhaps she could have been more assertive. Those opening mists were played with tenderness, yet something should be almost sinister in the soft dissonances. The Dead Leaves fall with a slow sustained tone, but Ms. Daudet didn’t quite catch the strangeness of the fluttering harmonies.

On the other hand, her understatement was perfect when Debussy was attempting more blatant pictures. La Puerta del Vino needed no pounding habanera, and her light Spanish accents produced a shadowy Iberia. Nor did eccentric Général Lavine, a real-life charlatan, require any accents on his tricks, they spoke for themselves, as did Mr. Pickwick.

Ms. Daudet needed no tricks of her own, and, had she not been apparently annoyed at the cretins with their photo machines, she could have turned these short Debussy bijoux into a stunning piece of jewelry.

The pianist didn’t need any showpieces for the second half either. I have the feelng that integrity is more important to Ms. Daudet than giving a “brilliant” recital. In fact, both works reeked more of religion than plain old artistry.

Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude has a title which Messiaen could have pilfered, and Liszt aimed here for the same sense of mysticism. Ms. Daudet, though, was somehow disinterested from the ecstatic. She played a beautifully moving work, her legato runs were faultless. It was lovely, it wasn’t radiant, but perhaps that was sufficient for such an inward-looking pianist.

The final work, Franck’s organ-like Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, can be a grandiose masterpiece. In fact, with Ms. Daudet’s intimate personality last night, one might have had doubts that she could make it succeed. Those doubts were incorrect. For the only time last night, she allowed her hands and mind to blossom out and meet the challenge.

The distant allure of the Debussy and Liszt were put aside for an outward show with that chorale theme, the complex fugue, and most of all, the balance to bring all the themes out together in a grand show.

No encores were given or were needed. Ms. Daudet was performing for herself, and for those looking for murmured secrets rather than blazing tunes, her three works were not only sufficient, they were fulfilling.

Harry Rolnick



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