thu 20/06/2024

Pascal and Ami Rogé, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Grand Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Pascal and Ami Rogé, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Grand Theatre

Pascal and Ami Rogé, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Grand Theatre

Peerless pianism from a husband and wife partnership

Pascal and Ami Rogé: who needs a full orchestra?Mark Higby

For record collectors of a certain age, Pascal Rogé is Mr French Piano Music; if you’re looking for decent recordings of Ravel, Poulenc, Saint-Saëns and Debussy, he’s the man. Hearing him perform live, here with his wife and duet partner Ami Rogé, is an overwhelming, entertaining experience, though you’re occasionally confounded by Rogé’s calm, unruffled exterior.

In the dryish, intimate acoustic of Leeds’s Howard Assembly Room, the sounds conjured were magnificent. Pedal notes teetered on the edge of audibility; thunderous, fruity chords made the floorboards vibrate. And Rogé never broke a sweat, receiving the applause after his dazzling piano duet version of Debussy’s La Mer with cool, affable diffidence. Debussy left a two-piano transcription, but Rogé’s arrangement works beautifully. And there’s the added fun of watching the balletic overlapping and interweaving of the two pianists’ hands.

Thunderous, fruity chords made the floorboards vibrate

Especially effective were the moments of eerie calm – the second movement’s quiet fade and the lead into the last movement’s delirious coda (complete with the missing fanfares excised by the composer). The closing minutes were apocalyptic, reminding us of the wildness, the unpredictability bubbling away under the music’s surface. And letting us appreciate just how modern and radical much of Debussy’s output still is. You didn’t miss the instrumental colouring at all. Ami Rogé’s pounding bass lines drove the music forward irresistibly, and her left hand, deservedly, had the last word. You’d happily pay to hear this La Mer on its own; an encore taken from Fauré’s Dolly Suite couldn’t help sounding anticlimactic.

Debussy’s early Petite Suite, written for competent amateur pianists, isn’t on the same level musically, though in a performance as poised as the Rogés’, the work’s shortcomings were less apparent. There was a delectable lightness of touch, the crystalline articulation and near-weightlessness transcending the work’s salon origins. Cécile Chaminade’s set of six Pièces Romantiques aren’t in the same league either, despite their surface charm. The odd quirky modulation raised a smile, but the conventionality and sameness of tone became slightly monotonous – along with Chaminade’s unimaginative approach to writing for four hands. Most of the melodic interest sat in the upper register, leaving the second player dutifully plodding away on the left.

Following the Chaminade with a scintillating account of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole served to highlight the latter composer’s genius more strongly. The players’ roles are far more equally balanced, and the range of colours conjured up by the Rogés was dazzling – the glistening, still haze of the opening giving way to playing bristling with percussive, edgy brilliance. I don’t feel I’ll ever need to hear the orchestral version again.

Similar thoughts were provoked by Pascal Rogé’s two solo spots. I’ve grown fond of Colin Matthews’s idiomatic realisations of Debussy Preludes, but hearing five of them here, played with such poise and tonal beauty, only served to stress how bold and innovative the piano versions remain. Rogé’s crispness in La sérénade interrompue was a joy to hear, as was the sheer weight of La cathédrale engloutie’s climax. Ravel’s delicate Sonatine was a delight; the first movement’s wistful melancholy oddly affecting, the last movement’s technical difficulties surmounted with insouciance.

There was a delectable lightness of touch, the crystalline articulation and near-weightlessness transcending the work’s salon origins

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We had the privilege of sitting next to Graham as he took notes during this performance. Somehow this adds gravitas to this review. We found ourselves feeling exactly the same as Graham at every turn, without having the musical vocabulary to say so. So bravo Graham for a such an accurate review. But especially well done Pascal and Ami, for this was a mesmerising evening, most memorable (bizarrely) for the ethereal quality of the pedalling in the pianissimo sections of the Preludes.

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