The recording offers four different collections of four-handed piano pieces by French composers, some very famous, such as Ma mere l’oye by Maurice Ravel better known in the later orchestral version of 1912 destined for the ballet, as well as other rarely performed works yet worthy of being present among the greatest successes of their creators such as Jeux d’enfants by Georges Bizet and the Dolly suite by Gabriel Fauré. The recording features a very particular treasure such as the Petite suite by Claude Debussy in which the twenty-six-year-old author unveils the qualities of his future inimitable musical language.
Jeux d’enfants, composed in 1871, marks the complete maturation of Bizet in his piano production. It is not so much influenced by the historical Sonata, perhaps renewed in the Lisztian cycle, nor does it achieve the “transcendental” keyboard virtuosity which dominated the European music scene of the time, but tries, rather, in true transalpine spirit to express the simple miniaturistic image characterized by rapid movements always preserved by a precise and intransigent formal intention. However, Jeux d’enfants takes us to a very private and domestic circle, familiar, to use another word, in which pure and unrepeatable juvenile emotions are the main protagonists; the same emotions (it is important to remember) that moved Robert Schumann in his Kinderszenen of 1838 and that transpired in various instances of the rich Shubert messe conceived for four-hands. No cheap sentimentalism but a constant and pursued autonomy of the sound which appears willing to confirm in realistic direction giving the titles to the singles “jeux”: Reverie, Impromptu, Berceuse, Scherzo, Fantaisie, Marche, Rondino, Esquisse, Nocturne, Caprice, Duo, Galop.
Melodic fantasy and harmonic invention, rhythmical connotations and timbre refinement alternate in the sequence of passages, in the refined and almost ironic march Trompette et tambour as in the Les Quatre coins contrapuntal cues; in the Saute-mouton dynamic tricks as well as in the thematic fragments originating by simple crushes in Bulles de Savon; in the simple and refined graces of Colin-Maillard, ending with the emotional tones of Le Bal that appears to enjoy more of a bright and decorated piano technique than the mere representation of the leading binary dance. A masterpiece, Jeux d’enfants, that anticipates some traces of the “impressionistic” language that will be part of Preludes by Debussy, or the Clartè, another typical French virtue, containing as a consequence different successes by Ravel. For sure, according to the text by Winton Dean on the author of Carmen, as it is the precursor of the others three suites featured in this recording. Those suites are “somehow debtor, although none has the freshness and the perfection of the original by Bizet”. .