Shani Diluka: The Proust Album (Warner)

His concerto is a rag-and-bone man’s barrow trundling down a Haussmann boulevard

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


Every now and then a record arrives that I have been waiting for all my life. As any Marcel Proust reader knows, the author’s search for lost time involves a tremendous amount of musical reminiscence and quotation, drawn from the salons of fin-de-siècle Paris. There must be a record of them, I used to think. There is now.

Diluka brings it off with a freedom rarely permitted these days on record

Expect no masterpieces in this album. Although Proust once attended eleven consecutive performances of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, his musical tastes were as trivial as the idle conversations he so languidly eavesdropped on. The album opens with a piano concerto in E by Reynaldo Hahn, Proust’s long-lasting lover from Venezuela. Hahn was a delicate writer of two-minutes chansons. His concerto is a rag-and-bone man’s barrow trundling down a Haussmann boulevard, full of objets trouvés and going nowhere.

The pieces Proust knew best were by Fauré, Massenet, César Franck and Debussy. This record attempts to construct the entirely fictional “Vinteuil Sonata” from fragments by Hahn, Ysaye and Cécile Chaminade not quite what Proust intended, but in the same posh arrondissement. Best of all is a French actor’s reading of the inimitable madeleine reminiscence from A la recherche, underscored by Reynaldo Hahn’s impossibly decadent Réveries du Prince Eglantine… To die for.

The album is the brainchild of Shani Diluka, a French pianist of Sri Lankan origin who gives these pieces a deliciously light touch and brings off the concept with a freedom rarely permitted these days on record. The violinist in the “Vinteuil” is Pierre Fouchenneret and there’s a welcome return to record for the soprano Natalie Dessay. I can’t wait to share this with fellow-Proustians.

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