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April 21, 2017
After many years of performing as a concert pianist, working as the artistic director for the Barachois Summer Music Series and collaborating on a variety of critically acclaimed musical projects across Canada, Julien Leblanc has released his first solo album, a piano recording entitled Mélancolies.
The album is a compilation of French compositions that became a staple of Leblanc’s repertoire after he discovered them early on in his career. The composers included in this recorded collection — Franck, Poulenc and Dutilleux — all hail from France and their combined output stretches from the mid-nineteenth century to Dutilleux’s last work which was published in 2009 when he was ninety-three.
Francis Poulenc was a less avant-garde contemporary of Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau and so, his work is accessible but inventive and fresh. Poulenc’s “Fifteen Improvisations” are known for their charming and buoyant character as well as for the technical artistry of the composer’s pedalling.
Henri Dutilleux’s work was more heavily influenced by his environmental context when he was composing music just after World War Two. The included piece by Dutilleux, “Sonata for piano”, denotes the turbulence, anguish and anxiety that pervaded during that period through his use of contrast — he juxtaposes rhythmic and jagged sections with sensual, dreamlike and ethereal parts.
Composing fifty years before Dutilleux and Poulenc, César Franck‘s “Prélude, choral et fugue” is religious and takes a cyclic form. In its closing coda, Franck masterfully superimposes the previous sections of his composition. The character of the work is philosophical and contemplative yet at the same time passionate and fervid.
Julien Leblanc connects these differing French compositions through his acute sensibilities and expressive piano playing. He fuses the works together with a consistent expression of melancholy which he identifies in each work.
Leblanc writes of this feeling in the notes of his album when he says ”A sense of melancholy pervades the pieces presented in this recording and I am especially attached to them. Be it dreamlike or loving, resigned or fatalistic, or caused by the absence of a loved one, this feeling of melancholy runs through these four pieces. As a shadow in the light, it contrasts with expressions of joy and happiness, intensifying them in the process. I present this recording to you humbly and with all my heart.”