Paray piano MS1831

Paul Paray (1886-1979)
Seven Piano Pieces
Sur la mer (1910)
Thème et Variations (1913)
D’Une Âme (1914)
Impromptu (1910)
Impressions (1912)]
Tarentelle (1903)
Valse en F sharp minor (1906)
Flavio Varani (piano)
rec. 2019, CBC Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada
MSR Classics MS1831 [78]

Paul Paray is well remembered as a fiery conductor, particularly of French music. During his tenure at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, 1951-1963, he turned it into possibly the finest French orchestra outside France. His recordings remain in circulation, and I have a few of them on my shelves. However, he was also, at least in his earlier years, a composer. There is a good deal of piano music and songs, also some chamber music, and later on he composed two symphonies and a Mass for the 500th anniversary of the death of Joan of Arc.

This disc is a spin-off from a project by the conductor Eduard Perrone to record all of Paray’s compositions. He interested the pianist here, Flavio Varani, in Paray’s piano works, which he originally recorded in 2005 in a two disc set on the Grotto label, on which there are several other recordings of Paray works. Varani has now returned to the best of them in rethought readings. There are three substantial works and four smaller ones. They are all early works and in them you can hear Paray’s preferred influences: Franck, Fauré and Ravel, as one might expect, but also I frequently found myself recalling Schumann, with his obsessive rhythms and romantic harmony, and once or twice Chopin and even Scriabin.

We get off to a good start with an impressionist work, Sur la mer, which begins with a gently rocking motif from which emerges a long melody rather in the Ravel manner. The writing becomes gradually fuller evoking not only Franck but also the Liszt of the fountains of the Villa d’Este. This is a rewarding piece.

The Thème et Variations of 1913 is a big work, much closer to Franck in idiom. The theme is grand and simple and is followed by nine variations, in some of which one can hear Paray’s admired precursors peeping through. There is a good variety in mood and pace and a fair amount of virtuosity.

D’Une âme which follows is a set of nine character pieces and is the largest work here. The nine numbers are individually quite short and each evokes a mood, such as fervente or fantasque. Again, they are attractively varied and again they do not really wholly throw off their models in earlier works.

The Impromptu, despite its name, seems to me the most perfectly realised of all these works, although it comes from the same period. It is a closely worked single movement, rather on the lines of a Chopin Ballade, with an agitated middle section.

The three Impressions return us to the impressionist idiom. The first, Nostalgie, has a constant pedal point C sharp, with a melody above. This is very much in the manner of Ravel’s Le Gibet, from Gaspard de la Nuit, although melancholy rather than macabre. Eclaircie is light and cheerful, rather in the Fauré manner. Primesaut is a capricious waltz.

The recital closes with two lighter works: the Tarantelle elaborates an Italian folk song in a rather Lisztian way, and the Valse is a charming salon piece, which the composer did not finish, so Perrone provided a neat conclusion.

Flavio Varani has lived with these pieces for years and gives convincing and well articulated performances. The recording is fine. I enjoyed the recital but felt that apart from the Impromptu, Paray had not yet really found his own proper voice. I would like to hear his two symphonies and his Mass, all of which date from the 1930s, and which I suspect may contain his best work. Still, this is a worthwhile presentation of as composer whose original as well as his interpretative work deserves attention.

Stephen Barber

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music