So Riveting You Might Have Heard a Fork Drop
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
The popular Greenwich Village music club Le Poisson Rouge is an informal place where patrons are encouraged to drink and eat during concerts, so there are inevitably some clinking glasses and waiters whooshing by.
But on Monday night the audience that packed the club for the recital by the superb French pianist Alexandre Tharaud was exceptionally quiet and palpably absorbed. In several works, especially a couple of Scarlatti sonatas and Debussy preludes, Mr. Tharaud played with a subdued sensitivity and delicacy of touch that demanded close attention. He got it. There were times during his performance that Le Poisson Rouge seemed like the most intimate of recital halls.
Mr. Tharaud’s career has mostly been in Europe. He has been making a series of impressive recordings on the Virgin Classics label, including an album of Bach’s keyboard concertos with the chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy (Bernard Labadie conducting), and a collection of 18 Scarlatti sonatas, both released last year.
Mr. Tharaud, 43, seemed in his element at Le Poisson Rouge. Looking trim and dapper in a stylish suit, he cheerfully welcomed the audience and explained that, being an artist, he is prone to whims. So he changed his program at the last minute and announced the works before he played them.
He began with exquisite, crisp and beautifully textured performances of five Scarlatti sonatas, dispatching the spiraling passagework of the breathless Sonata in C (K. 72), with a fleetness and clarity that recalled Vladimir Horowitz, a consummate Scarlatti player.
Next came seven Debussy preludes (from Book 1), completed in 1910. Combining refinement and daring, Mr. Tharaud had these pieces sounding as if they rightfully belonged at a club specializing in contemporary music. Even in the familiar “La Cathédrale Engloutie” (“The Sunken Cathedral”), Mr. Tharaud brought out clashing inner voices and murky harmonies that put a fresh cast on the music. He gave a brilliant account of the teeming “Ce Qu’a Vu le Vent d’Ouest” (“What the West Wind Saw”), and had the audience quietly laughing during the impish passages of the delightfully clumsy “Minstrels.”
He ended with several works that he has recorded for his next Virgin Classics album, due out in the fall and titled “Boeuf Sur le Toit,” after the cabaret-bar in Paris that opened in the early 1920s and soon became a hotbed for the avant-garde scene and American jazz. The recording is a quirky collection of French popular music, blues, Gershwin standards and more, for which Mr. Tharaud is joined by, among others, a banjo player, clarinetist and the soprano Natalie Dessay.
Mr. Tharaud played “Chopinata,” a clever jazz fantasy on Chopin themes by Clément Doucet, who was the house pianist at Boeuf Sur le Toit during its heyday. It was fun to hear his breezy account of “Five O’Clock Foxtrot,” an arrangement of a dance episode from Ravel’s opera “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.” He ended with a tasteful rendition of “The Man I Love,” the Gershwin classic.
Carnegie Hall will present Mr. Tharaud in its Distinctive Debuts series in October. When asked on Monday during a brief interview if that concert would be at the main hall, Mr. Tharaud said, “No, no, the little one,” meaning Weill Recital Hall. He added, “I’m not enough famous in America.” That may change.