Solo piano music comprises a significant part of Gabriel Fauré’s output spanning a 60-year period from his very earliest Romances sans Paroles Op,17 written while still in his teens, to the final 13th Nocturne Op.119 from 1921. Among the most highly regarded of his piano works are the Nocturnes and Barcarolles, and these are presented in their entirety on this Hyperion release by the Montreal-born and Boston-based pianist Marc-André Hamelin. While Hamelin is no stranger to French repertoire, it has never been a big part of his extensive discography, so this recording is a welcome addition.
Fauré’s Nocturnes are very much in the Romantic tradition, the earliest ones showing some influence of John Field and Chopin. Yet they were never languorous, nocturnal essays; instead, they were conceived as lyrical pieces evoking a myriad of emotions. Hamelin’s playing is elegant and refined, with the inherent technical challenges handled with ease.
Like the Nocturnes, the Barcarolles were written over the entire span of Fauré’s career and similarly show a progressive development in style. While most are written in the standard 6/8, 9/8 or 6/4 time signatures, many don’t adhere to the familiar notion of a lilting Italian boat song. Again, Hamelin demonstrates an appealing fluidity of execution where his impressive technique is never an end unto itself, but simply a means towards a fine interpretation.
An added bonus is the charming piano duet Dolly Suite, written for the young daughter of the singer Emma Bardac. It is performed here with Hamelin’s wife Kathy Fuller, bringing the program to a most satisfying conclusion.