NYCMF: Pascal Rogé and Friends

Pascal Rogé made a strong impression at last year’s New York Chamber Music Festival, and returned this evening for a program of collegial music-making.

Rogé and his wife Ami left a strong impression as formidable piano duo in their short contribution to the festival’s September 11th commemoration program. Debussy’s La Mer, in its piano four-hands version, was completed a few months before its orchestration. The Rogeé summoned long, melodic and rhapsodic phrases in the first movement, spinning out each section with colorful voicing. The secone movement had a more playful character than the orchestral version, slipping in and out of a scherzando mood, and occasionally taking on the character of Debussy’s Spanish music (the ocean off Iberia?) – and what a treat to so satisfyingly hear all of the voices in the brief contrapuntal sections and the coda done with such languid ambiguity. In the piano version, the opening section of the final movement sounds like a swift-moving ocean storm, and the lyrical middle section built dramatically to the thrilling final section and coda, which packed an unexpected punch.

I’ve had mixed feelings about some music by the urbane yet unpretentious Francis Poulenc, including his Elégie for horn and piano, which has overstayed its welcome the few times I have heard it. That was not the case with the present performance by New York Philharmonic hornist Howard Wall and Rogé; the opening, in which slow chromatic ominous melodies alternate with raid-fire, severe outbursts, served as an attention-grabbing prelude to music that was at last engagingly rhetorical. This is a tough piece to pull off – lugubrious and lumbering even in the hands of some world-class players – and the present performance was moire thoroughly satisfying than I ever imagined the work could be.

In the able hands of the Rogés, the four-hands version of Ravel’s Rhapsodie espagnole lost little in atmosphere in comparison to the full orchestral version, particularly the Habanera, which actually seemed more characterful in this version. For a brief moment in the final Feria, one could hear the strong similarity to Chabrier’s Espana. As with La Mer, the Rogé’s solid rhythmic unity and nuanced dynamics and phrasing never called attention to itself.

Maybe it’s been a string of bad luck, but up until tonight I haven’t heard a live performance of César Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano that didn’t leave me disappointed – and usually bored. The same goes for most recordings I’ve heard. Violinist Elmira Darvarova and Rogé took the opening movement at a more propulsive tempo and applied more fervid phrasing than I’m accustomed to hearing. The assertive, rhetorical second movement is formally challenging; I’ve heard more than one world-class violin-piano team make a jumble of the movement, but Darvarova and Rogé tamed this movement, running it through its varied moods and ending in a satisfyingly thrilling flourish.  Both violinist and pianist made the most of the cantabile material in the third movement Fantasia, and the finale, which too often suffers an excess of intensity, was gently lyrical. All in all, it was a hell of a convincing performance of this sonata, capping off a fine evening of music-making.

Symphony Space had an abundance of empty seats this season, but the attendees responded enthusiastically to the evening’s music-making. There’s still a week’s worth of recitals – more than a dozen tempting programs – to come.

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