Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954) was born in Bordeaux, France and was a pupil of Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire where he later taught, succeeding Fauré as professor of composition and later succeeding Dukas as professor of orchestration.
He formed a close friendship with Fauré for whom he made a piano reduction of the older composer’s Requiem. His own works include opera, choral works, orchestral and chamber works as well as works for solo piano and piano four hands.
It is the complete piano works that have been recorded by Martin Jones www.owenwhitemanagement.com/artist/martin-jones and newly released on a three CD set by Nimbus www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html
Striking discords open Roger-Ducasse’s Barcarolle (1906) before the music settles to a flowing, gentle melody. Martin Jones brings a finely phrased linear flow to the music. Roger-Ducasse has a forward looking style with quite adventurous harmonies given the date of this work’s composition. This is a very attractive piece.
The Six Préludes (1907) open with a beautifully atmospheric Très nonchalant that slowly unfolds before Très calme brings delicately rippling phrases finely played by Jones. There is a livelier, rhythmically sprung D’un rythme très précis, beautifully shaped by this pianist followed by Très libre with its lovely, gently laid out harmonies, Jones showing great empathy for this exquisite music. Martin Jones’ fine phrasing brings much to the musical lines of D’un rythme capricieux et tender keeping a constant line as this flows freely across the keyboard with some lovely harmonies. Très souple brings a faster flow with some lovely delicate fluent touches from Jones.
Prelude (1913) Avec beaucoup de fantaisie brings a rather Iberian flavour to this fluid short piece before Etude en Sol mineur (1914) Modéré with its series of descending phrases that lead to a passage of free flowing invention with Martin Jones’ fine phrasing adding so much. The music rises to some fine climaxes during its length.
In the Prélude Allegro of Quatre Etudes (1915) Martin Jones reveals many little details in this fast flowing piece before the Fugue Assez vite brings the feel of a nursery song as it skips along. Lent seems to pick up on the previous melody only slower and gentler, Jones bringing a lovely feel. The final Lentement builds gently with some exquisite phrases.
Broad solemn chords open Variations sur un Choral (1915) as the music develops and freely moves through a series of ten variations with fine harmonies and rhythms displaying some wonderful invention. Etude en Sixtes (1916) Presque vite et avec une excessive fantaisie de rythme develops out of a little opening motif, wonderfully revealed by Jones. A lightly rhythmic Rythmes (1917) brings some pretty virtuosic passages brilliantly played by this pianist to conclude the first disc.
The second disc opens with Etude en La bémol majeur (1916) Presque lent where gorgeous harmonies abound as the music gently flows. There is an equally impressive Arabesques (1917) where Roger-Ducasse takes his music further into advanced territory.
Esquisses pour Piano (1917) opens with Lent that brings subtle little dissonances before the fast moving and fluent Sans lenteur et gaîment that builds beautifully. Sans lenteur is an unusual little piece that moves in chordal progressions followed by Lent et grave that gently finds its way through some fine harmonies.
The light and breezy Arabesques No.2 (1919) brings moments of fast flourishes and fine harmonies whilst Sonorités (1919) opens quietly and tentatively, developing through some lovely ripples and flourishes with this pianist bringing exceptionally fine playing, so fluid and with such fine phrasing and rubato.
There are two further Barcarolles, Barcarolle No.2 (1920) and Barcarolle No.3 (1921). No.2 is gently free flowing, bringing many lovely little moments, some faster and fluid whilst No.3 brings a slightly darker tone before opening out in broader harmonies, with some more dynamic passages finely played by this pianist.
Impromptu (1921) is revealed as a very progressive piece with lovely free harmonies and fine subtle rhythmic phrasing. That rhythmic quality appears in
Chant de l'aube (1921) Martin Jones bringing pin point clarity. One can feel Fauré peering through a prism of more advanced harmonies in the Romance (1923), perhaps even looking towards Scriabin.
Adrian Farmer joins Martin Jones for the first work on disc three, the three movement Petite Suite pour piano à quatre mains (1899). Souvenance feels very much in the 19th century with its directness and simplicity. Berceuse again has a simplicity, but with an attractive underlying rhythmic pulse and occasional hints of his later harmonies. Debussy occasionally peers through Claironnerie, a sprightly rhythmic piece with some lovely dissonances brought out between these players.
This is a particularly fine performance of this piano suite.
Prélude d'un Ballet (1910) (Réduction pour piano par l’Auteur) evokes ‘the park, a castle…abandoned…Autumn…the Poet, dreaming of the past…’ It opens gently and quietly creating a fine atmosphere of the stark abandoned building before Martin Jones brings lovely sonorities and harmonies and exquisite little details in this exquisite little piece.
Interlude Au jardin de Marguerite (1913) (Réduction pour piano par l’Auteur) also has a particular pictorial reference ‘Night in the garden…Awakening of the soul in the garden…rustles in the quiet evening…a distant bell, almost unreal, seems to expand the silence…Faust, languid, rests, listens…’ Delicate little notes appear slowly before the theme is revealed, a slow gentle melody that moves hesitantly ahead, again conjuring a lovely atmosphere. It passes through varied passages as the music rises and becomes more animated with some very fine playing from Jones.
Etudes a quatre mains, pour un Commençant brings the return of Adrian Farmer to join Martin Jones. These four hands pieces are in three collections with Livre I (1916) opening with a leisurely Presque lent before Sans lenteur where each player’s line is beautifully laid over the other as it slowly moves forward. These four hands reveal the lovely harmonies of Presque vite whereas Lent rises to a little climax in another essentially gentle piece. These two fine pianists highlight brilliantly fine rhythmic lines of Presque vite et très rythmé with a fine light touch.
They gently push the flowing melody forward in Sans lenteur of Livre II (1916), rising in dynamics and tempo before the quiet coda. Lent et triste brings some broad dynamic chords to the opening which return throughout around gentler passages. Livre II concludes with a faster moving, light rhythmic Assez vite et très rythmé with some lovely little details revealed by these two pianists.
Livre III (1917) consists of just two pieces, Adagio classique. Lent, that has a melancholy opening, a tolling motif for one player before developing through lighter, passages before the nicely sprung Scherzando. Assez vite.
There are some lovely pieces in these Livres, impressively played by Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer.
Martin Jones concludes this fine set with J. S. Bach’s Passacaglia BWV582 in the Transcription pour Piano par Roger-Ducasse (1918). Martin Jones brings a finely developed performance of this transcription, a fine conclusion to this attractive collection with some gloriously forceful passages later reminding one, as if it were necessary, what a fine pianist Martin Jones is.
I found this to be an unexpectedly enticing release. Although Debussy occasionally comes to mind, Jean Roger-Ducasse has a forward looking, wholly personal touch.
Lovers of late 19th and early 20th century French piano music should fall in love with many of these pieces especially in such fine performances. The recording from the Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK is tip top. There are useful notes.
I note from his agent’s website that Martin Jones celebrates his 75th birthday this year. The Classical Reviewer offers many congratulations to this fine pianist.