Pascal Roge, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Now in his early fifties, Pascal Rogé has long since established himself among the most consistently satisfying interpreters of French solo-piano repertoire. Indeed, his recent disc of the complete Debussy Préludes has been hailed as near-definitive, and here he was, in the South Bank's International Piano Series, to deliver Books I and II entire - all 24 pieces - to a full Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Yet, if expectations were high, the results proved distinctly mixed, and, at times, puzzling. Rogé's command of a full, weighty tone, even in quieter textures, and the beautiful balance of his chording, were immediately evident in the hieratic opening prelude, "Danseuses de Delphes". And, if the dynamics seemed generally louder than Debussy asked for - mezzo-forte instead of mezzo-piano - one presumed that this reflected Rogé's concern to project to the back of the hall.

Although there were moments later on - the filigree ending of "Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses" in Book II, for instance - where Rogé reminded us that he can ripple with a breathtaking hush, the absence of really quiet playing proved pervasive. Moreover, this was compounded by many local contradictions of Debussy's markings: for instance, the guitar-like strumming in the little Spanish study "La sérénade interrompue", marked "distant", was thumped out.

The deliberate rhythmic instability here, insinuating a comic staggering into the underlying dance rhythm, was also a recurrent eccentricity: in particular, a volatile tendency to rush detail in faster, more fantastical pieces such as "Les collines d'Anacapri". One began to wonder whether these represented momentary memory lapses, or spontaneous decisions to do this or that differently for once - an overriding of meticulous detail to recapture an improvisatory immediacy of expression, atmosphere and character.

Where this came off - as in Rogé's marvellously pungent account of the habañera-based "La Puerto del Vino" - the colours and resonances certainly hovered in the mind long afterwards. And, of course, Debussy himself often talked of overthrowing formality and getting back to the "naked flesh of emotion". But he could be merciless over detail when he coached other pianists in his music.

Oddly, Rogé's account of Satie's second Gnossienne as an encore had just the restraint and respect for the dynamics that his Debussy seemed to disregard.

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