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Fauré’s piano music has never entirely convinced me, so I am grateful to Louis Lortie – who carries a torch for it – for dunking me in this melange of rarely-performed pieces. And what comes over most strongly is the composer’s knack for wrong-footing the listener’s harmonic expectations, in a way which is at once teasing and engaging. As Roger Nichols puts it in his illuminating liner note, Fauré was not primarily interested in ‘progress through opposition’: he preferred the art of combination, ‘of throwing new light from cleverly judged angles on to familiar ideas’.

Fauré did not aspire to join the big league of piano composers, but he did want to explore alternatives to the sonata form: Liszt, to whom he played his Ballade in F-sharp Op 19, gave up trying to sight-read it saying that he had ‘run out of fingers’. It is indeed a toweringly complex work which owes a lot to Chopin, and its grandeur is indisputable.

Lortie begins and ends with two of his own charming transcriptions from Fauré’s Requiem. The rest of his programme of Nocturnes, Ballades and Barcarolles is dominated by the majestic Theme and Variations Op 73, which was Fauré’s homage to Schumann’s Études Symphoniques. And the homage is indeed close: beginning with an evocation of what Alfred Cortot described as an ancient frieze of mourners, the work turns stylistic tricks which are very reminiscent of Schumann’s. Lortie makes the best possible advocate for this underrated music.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica

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