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Valse-caprice No.4 in A Flat Major Op.62

Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)

Valse-caprice No.4 in A Flat Major Op.62

Faure’s 4 Valses-Caprices (1883-1894) are among the most seriously underestimated of all of his works, and it took Cortot – always among Faure’s most distinguished and vivacious admirers – to speak of their 'sensual grace….and impassioned tenderness.' More caprice than waltz, these are dazzling, multi-directional improvisations on a genre arousing little beyond tired salon expectations exemplified at its most lively by Chopin and later by Saint-Saens. Here, there is no possibility of monotony, of a predictable three beats in a bar, but a vertiginous high-wire act in which Faure challenges his audience, and most of all his pianist, to follow him through one fearless gyration and acrobatic feat after another. A sort of compositional exuberance, the Valses-Caprices are virtuosic in the most comprehensive technical and poetic sense and are also a see-bed for ideas later aphoristically expressed. Quite unapologetically, they are among the least economical of Faure’s works, happy to unite even the most heterodox ideas or transform their shape and substance as if with some magical elixir. Blithely reversing sequence and logic Faure gives us sentence followed by verdict (variation first and theme afterwards). With classic legerdemain he commences 1 and 2 with a graceful transformation of themes that later appear with all the comic baldness and flatfooted emphasis of a carousel waltz and then, with such incongruous material ripe for elaboration, spins out a wealth of ideas, of a scintillating brilliance and inventiveness. Such open laughter is refined into music of greater subtlety in 3 and 4. In 3 it takes a mere four bars for the basic tonality of G flat to venture into the remotest territory, a premonition of an unforgettable moment in the central episode where the principal subject and an added bell-like motive are suddenly joined and sent soaring skywards into a rarefied harmonic region, an episode of astonishing suppleness, intricacy and tendresse. The 4th Valse-Caprice, with its more attenuated melodies, constantly shifting emphasis and pattern, makes memorisation a notably hazardous task. The pianist is shorn of the safety-net of convention, is less certain exactly where he is than in, say the Theme and Variations and is left with progressions and ideas of a mischievous elusiveness and cunning. The ghost of the Valse de concert, of Saint-Saens’ Etude en forme de Valse, for example, hovers distantly behind Faure’s urbanity yet even as a possible influence its obvious character is turned topsy-turvy; transformed into an aerial charm and sparkle of the most insinuating ease, subtlety and imaginative brio. These are hardly the compositions of a composer relentlessly credited with the limited attributes of 'charm' or 'restraint'. Faure and his friend Andre Messanger used to dazzle their Paris audiences with four hand improvisations, happily sporting with popular dance forms with an ever increasing virtuosity; qualities brilliantly reflected in the Valses-Caprices.

© Bryce Morrison

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