I've been on a Poulenc chamber music binge lately. I can't stop listening to Eric Le Sage's complete set on SONY's superb budget box. I took a chance on this new 3-disc Brilliant Classics collection. This particular release is not comprised of reissued material from other labels, as is the usual case with Brilliant. Rather, these are brand new recordings made by Brilliant.
This set is special in that it contains Poulenc's music for piano 4-hands and two pianos, along with the usual chamber music (Sonatas et al). If I have one regret about Le Sage's SONY (RCA) set, it is that he did not record the two piano/4-hand repertoire. Fortunately, Brilliant rises to fill the gap. And they do it (sorry) - brilliantly!
Starting with the piano music on disc one, I was immediately struck by the beauty of piano tone. And as the program continued, I could not get over the ravishing gorgeousness of piano tone - so firmly resonant, well focused and spectacularly recorded. A glance in the booklet reveals these were played on Fazioli pianos. They possess a very different sound from the usual Steinways - a richer, rounder, more even tonality from top to bottom. They do not ring brightly on top; they do not boom in bass. They have a complete absence of the rather hard, sometimes glassy tone that recording engineers so often capture when recording Steinways. I'm not sure it's fair to the Steinway that they are so difficult to record well, but that is the reality in my experience listening to so much recorded piano music (especially from the "major" labels who often don't take care with such matters). The same often applies to Bosendorfer pianos; they are richer and darker than a Steinway, but can often seem a bit boomy and larger than life.
Not so these Faziolis. Oh my. This piano tone has to be heard to be believed. Anyone familiar with the Italian loudspeaker, Sonus Faber, who's signature feature is a leather-clad baffle, may be reminded of them when listening to this recording of Fazioli pianos. Both brands tend to produce a rather mellow, richly upholstered, wooden sound. It is a distinct and unique tone which is, quite simply, exquisite. (Alas I use PSB speakers, as I cannot afford Sonus Fabers!)
Fortunately, Brilliant Classics has recorded them beautifully - very natural, very cleanly detailed, within the perfect acoustic. And the playing is fabulous all through this set. All the performers on this set are completely new to me, and I suspect they are not well-known outside Italy.
Moving on the chamber music, Brilliant has moved to a different venue where a Yamaha piano is used. It's still lovely recorded piano tone, but bolder and a bit more percussive - more like what we normally hear in recorded piano. Again we are fortunate Brilliant has recorded the remainder of the program just as successfully. The soloists are naturally placed and a perfect balance between them and piano is achieved.
All of it is gloriously played and the music-making here cannot be more highly praised. It is all every bit as wonderful as that heard in Le Sage's set, and is much better recorded. Indeed this is some of the best quality chamber music in catalog. And at its budget price, this Brilliant collection is absolutely not to be missed.