Tharaud has made prize-winning recordings of works by Bach, Chopin and Couperin and is also a champion of contemporary music. His most recent project is a double album of Satie: Avant-dernières pensées (Harmonia Mundi).
Ben Finane: What is your favorite composer for solo piano to play?
Alexandre Tharaud: Bach. OK, so he didn't exactly write for piano, but I love to play him because he is the composer who never fails to put me in good spirits. My favorite is the Goldberg Variations. Not the most original answer, but the construction of the work is so pristine....
BF: Certainly there are different priorities when playing music by different composers. What are the most important things to consider when playing the music of, say, Bach, Chopin and Ravel?
AT: For Bach, it's the sound. When you find the sound, everything becomes more natural. For Ravel, it's finding the equilibrium: to find it between the nuances, the equilibrium between the emotions, the dynamics, the sound. It's the most difficult in Ravel, because, as in Chopin, one has the impression of never being in the right place. One is always too much, or not enough; one is too fast, too slow; too heavy, too light; too emotional, too withdrawn. That's why the equilibrium is so hard to find in Ravel. When playing Chopin, the thing is to find the naturalism, the natural voice, to try to play as if you are singing. With Chopin, you have to work really, really hard in advance, but then during the concert, you have to absolutely forget everything and play naturally.
BF: What is special about the music of Satie?
AT: Satie is a composer who resembles no other composer. And his music resembles no other music. I think that the striking feature of Satie's music is that it touches us so intimately. Satie is universal: you can play it in Africa, Asia, the States: it is a music that speaks to everyone. There is a warmth to Satie, but what's so disturbing is how he is able to project the feeling of solitude, that with three notes he can touch us so: it's remarkable.
[Mr. Tharaud's responses were translated by the interviewer.]
For more on the pianist, visit www.alexandretharaud.com.