Pascal Rogé plays the music that makes him tick at Paxton

Pascal Rog�
Pascal Rog�
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Ken Walton

He, more than anyone, has committed himself to capturing the colouristic integrity of those French composers who spanned the musical revolution running from Impressionists Debussy and Ravel, through the absurdity of Satie and earthiness of Poulenc, to the mystical euphoria of Messiaen.

All of the above, apart from Messiaen, feature in Rogé’s solo programme, although the composer’s exotic L’Abîme des Oiseaux forms part of a broader French selection he will perform in a duo recital with clarinettist Emma Johnson the following day. That programme also includes music by the more conservative 19th century French set, such as Saint-Saëns and Widor.

But speaking to Rogé, it’s clear that his first passion lies with the juicy 
dichotomy between the sweet-scented colorations of the pioneering 
Impressionists from the acerbic eccentricities of Poulenc and Satie.

He suggests that by bringing these two together as an uninterrupted cocktail mix is a way of creating a French journey for audiences that will effectively “make these composers sound like they come from the same family”. The common thread being the French lineage.

Rogé has been flying the French musical Tricolor for well over 20 years now. “I never felt there was a problem in the way the music was being played,” he explains. “I just felt a need for the music – especially that of Poulenc and Satie – to be played more often, and to show how different it was from the German Romantic tradition it was attempting to escape from.

“What is so interesting from the piano perspective is the way 
Debussy and others adopted much subtler expressions, more based on colours, sounds and – in the case of Poulenc – a sense of humour. They also adopted a lighter approach to music that may seem superficial, but was more about entertainment. All French pieces are taut. They tend to get straight to the point, where the warmth of the images, the impressions of nature are all that matters.”

For Rogé, Debussy is the master of impressionism, which he will no doubt reveal in the works he plays at Paxton – the Suite Bergamasque (containing the famous Clair de lune), the two delicious Arabesques, and the 1907 Book 2 of Images. “It’s amazing how Debussy can even recreate a temperature. Where he writes about ‘footsteps in the snow’, within two bars I actually begin to feel cold. Playing his music is everything to do with such images, the colours he puts in front of me, the landscapes,” says Rogé.

“The wonderful thing is, there is never just one approach. I might see sounds that others don’t, which is where even the audience gets to 
participate. I love the way, for instance, that the descriptive names Debussy gives his pieces are there just to give a hint. It’s no accident that he places these at the end of the pieces, not the beginning.”

Rogé will also play the more formalised Sonatine by Debussy’s traditional sparring partner, Maurice Ravel. “They were very different composers,” Rogé argues. “Ravel was much more straight on form, and quite secretive, which comes over in his music. Debussy was much more outgoing, more adventurous. He wanted to communicate and display physical emotion. But as a Frenchman, I need them both in my repertoire.”

He also finds great pleasure in the music of Poulenc, whose sharp-edged Toccata will end the Paxton recital. “Poulenc was part of that group of composers who needed to get away from Debussy. His answer was to find a new language more influenced by popular café music,” says Rogé. “The spontaneity, the unpretentious and natural melodies he wrote, are all a reflection of the man. “I never met him, but I feel, through his music, that I ‘know’ him.”

Rogé’s solo recital is just part 
of a week-long programme of events at Paxton House that also includes performances by Scottish pianist 
Alasdair Beatson, the Endellion and Arcadia String Quartets, the Rhodes Piano Trio, cellist David Watkin and 
Baroque music ensemble Florilegium.

That’s a sterling line-up, but the chance to hear the French pianist play the music that makes him tick is an opportunity not to be missed.

• Music at Paxton runs 19-28 July at Paxton House, near Berwick-upon-Tweed,