After her triumphs in the world's greatest opera houses, Natalie Dessay extends beyond opera with a tribute to the legendary Michel Legrand who has scored some of the most famous musical soundtracks in history. This album that Dessay and Legrand have recorded together focuses on voice, piano, bass, and drums. It includes Legrand's Oscar-winners, a duet from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg - which brings Dessay together with her husband, the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, the Lilac Fairy's song from Peau d'ane, and the sisters' sassy duet from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, performed here by Dessay and fellow soprano Patricia Petitbon. Another special guest on the album is the distinguished harpist Catherine Michel, who is also Michel Legrand's wife.
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Let me give you a few examples. Tharaud begins the program with the Prelude in B minor by Bach, in an arrangement by Alexander Siloti. It has a beautifully straightforward simplicity that Tharaud executes with care. It's contemplative music at its best.
Next is the Romance sans paroles No. 3, Op. 17 by Gabriel Faure. It is lovely in its graceful lines, which Tharaud characterizes with loving care. After that is a bit of a pick-me-up with Rameau's rondo piece Les Sauvages, one of the livelier tunes on the album. Then there's Gluck's popular Dance of the Blessed Spirits, again arranged for piano by Siloti, in which Tharaud conveys a sweet and untroubled peace.
And so it goes, each little work a shining gem and, for the most part, a quiet oasis for relaxation and thought. Of course, there are also a few things like Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor No. 2, Op. 3, which in Tharaud's hands is not only powerful and dynamic but noble and exciting.
Lots of favorites: The ones I've already mentioned and also Chopin's Minute Waltz, always welcome; Saint-Saens's The Swain, always delightful; Chabrier's Feuillet d'album and Bizet's Adagietto, both enchanting; Poulenc's aptly named Melancolie; and Satie's seductively odd little Gymnopedie No. 3.
Tharaud closes the program with piece by Bach, the Andante from his Concerto in B minor, arranged for piano by Mr. Tharaud. It has a calm, tranquil tone reminiscent of Beethoven's later Moonlight Sonata, and Tharaud’s handling of it easily points up the similarities.
The fact is, Tharaud never attempts to dazzle the listener with his technical virtuosity. I suspect it's a case of been there, done that. Here, he is only trying to reveal a part of himself in music he loves and, obviously, loves to play. It is an enjoyable package.
The piano sounds warm and cozy, with a pleasing resonant bloom on the notes. Mr. Tharaud appears to be in a spacious environment miked from a moderately close distance. The results are clear yet rounded, detailed yet smooth and natural. It's a sound that appropriately fits the nature of the music.
John J. Puccio
Since the lead review gives us a listing of this diverse lineup, I won't duplicate the effort. I do wonder who wants to hear such a catch-as-catch-can tidbits except for Tharaud's fans. The album could be considered a collection of encores, but the playing is often so discreet that the CD could be played softly as background music. There are outbursts in the midst of repose, as in the quintessential Rachmaninov Prelude in C-sharp minor, and Tharaud's style, although not as challenging as it can be (see his Chopin albums), provides a unifying thread. In the end, the best encore programs display dazzling technique and showmanship, as one hears from Horowitz and, more recently, Yuja Wang.
Showmanship is exactly what Tharaud avoids, so I suppose this is a set of encores for the thoughtful, music for the sort of people who say they never watch TV except for an occasional look-in at PBS. Or it could be the perfect musical wallpaper when giving an English professor a massage.