Review: Cinema – Alexandre Tharaud, Piano (2022)

A cursory perusal of Alexandre Tharaud’s recordings reveals an artist that embracing all periods and styles. His latest 2-CD album features film music, mostly dating from the last three decades. I approached the album with some trepidation, but Tharaud’s liner notes, and his brilliant playing, demonstrate a keen admiration and enthusiasm for this repertoire. Much of the repertoire is drawn from French cinema, surely lesser-known music than the classic scores by Korngold, Waxman, and Steiner, or today’s film composer superstar, John Williams. William’s music does, in fact appear in two tracks: “Over the Moon” from E.T., and the lesser-known main theme from “Sabrina” (1995), which Tharaud instils with a particularly haunting beauty.

Tharaud is fortunate indeed to have Pappano and his Santa Cecilia orchestra as accompanists for the first part of the album. As one would expect, much of the music has an extroverted, ardent emotionalism that Pappano and his players clearly connect with and obviously relish. They play this repertoire with the same seriousness of intent and passion heard in their orchestral and opera recordings (only a few weeks ago I praised their exceptional work in “Insieme,” an album of operatic duets sung by Jonas Kaufman and Ludovic Tézier on Sony). Examples of their excellence are plentiful, but their performance of Morricone’s “La disubbidienza: Il colore dei suoi occhi” (CD1, Tr. 22), gentle and deeply melancholic, is a highlight. Tharaud and the orchestra ensure their performance of Legrand’s “The Thomas Crown Affair: The Windmills of Your Mind” captures the erotic playfulness so evident between the movie’s two stars, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. This music eventually won an Academy Award for its composer Michel Legrand – the album includes seven excerpts by the composer.

The second CD includes a generous selection of works for piano and orchestra, the second part of the album features more intimate music making, either by piano solo, or with Tharaud accompanying other soloists. The first track, “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” from La Land, allows Tharaud a chance to show off his jazzier side. Rota’s “Main Theme” from 8 ½ is impressively virtuosic, dispatched with plenty of panache, while the same composer’s “Love Theme” from The Godfather is given a passionate sadness very much in keeping with the story the movie tells. D’Alessio’s “India Song” has a sultry huskiness as sung by Vanessa Paradis, while Tharaud and violinist Nemanja Radulovic make Morricone’s “La banchiera: Dedica” a song without words, delicate and forlorn.

The liner notes clearly communicate how much Tharaud values this repertoire, and how it has been and continues to be an important part of his artistic life. His playing is consistently stylish, lyrical, sensitive, and deeply communicative. Dimitri Soudoplatoff’s orchestrations and arrangements (11 in all) are beautifully colored, capturing the emotional core of each selection. Five of the arrangements were made by the pianist himself. Balance between piano and orchestra is excellent, Erato’s engineers producing a richly detailed and warm sound for the orchestral selections and a more intimate sound for the second CD. Thoughtful programming and exceptional artistry makes this a winning recording.

Alexandre Tharaud – Piano
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Antonio Pappano – Conductor
Erato, 5419718461

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