Young French pianist Lucas Debargue came fourth in the 2015 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition and this is his third solo album. Some critics suggest his backstory contributed to his success: he was originally self-taught and uses a quirky fingering for scales, using only thumb and index finger.
Debargue’s first album included his competition repertoire (Ravel and Scarlatti). Here he turns to uncommon fare: two middle-period Schubert Sonatas and Szymanowski’s Second Sonata. He spins a nice line in Schubertian cantabile in the tender Andante of the Sonata in A Minor, and shows an innate understanding of the contrast between playfulness and drama in the finale. In both sonatas he proves a reliable guide: a more volatile Schubertian than Brendel but not as revelatory as Zimerman in his recent award-winning recital.
Szymanowski’s early sonata (1911) shows the Polish composer strongly under the influence of Scriabin in its tonality, and Rachmaninov in its full-voiced climaxes. It is a well-structured piece, with a theme and variations as the second movement and a towering fugal finale (care of Bach/Busoni). Debargue is at his best exploring the diverse colours of the episodic central movement, neatly emphasising a pre-echo of the composer’s late Mazurkas, but in the Fugue he begins at so ferocious a level he has nowhere to go in the triumphal coda except to bash the hell out of it. A disappointing conclusion to an otherwise exciting release.