One of six children born into a musical family, Jean-Philippe Collard first studied piano in Epernay. At the Paris Conservatoire, where he was enrolled at the age of ten, he studied with Aline van Barentzen and led a fairly lonely existence, having to practise five to six hours each day, becoming isolated from other children. After winning a premier prix from van Barentzen’s class at the age of sixteen, Collard was not ready for a performing career. He decided to study privately with a pupil of Yves Nat, Pierre Sancan, who succeeded in moving Collard away from the purely technical aspects of the piano (as learnt at the Conservatoire) in order to concentrate more on its musical qualities. At twenty, Collard won first prize at the Guilde Française des Artistes Solistes and the following year won fifth prize and the special Fauré Prize at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition; this was followed a year later by his win at the Cziffra Competition.
Collard made his Paris debut at the age of twenty-five and in the same year toured America for the first time with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa. Since then he has performed throughout Europe, America, Australia, Russia and Japan, and has performed with the major orchestras of the world including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia and all the BBC orchestras. He has worked with many conductors including Seiji Ozawa, Antal Dorati, Charles Dutoit, André Previn and Lorin Maazel.
A popular artist in Britain, Collard regularly participates at festivals in Edinburgh, Aldeburgh, Bath and the Proms as well as appearing at the Wigmore Hall and the South Bank in London. He first appeared in London in 1974 with the Quatour Via Nova in the Purcell Room, but officially made his London debut in December 1980 with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E flat K. 271. When he played Rachmaninov at the Wigmore Hall in 1982, Joan Chissell wrote in The Times, ‘Not for a long time can this hall have heard playing of more incisive clarity and control. However complex the web, never was a note obscured. Besides brilliance he has a luminously varied range of colour. He can also command remarkable reserves of strength with which to complement finesse.’ In 1991 Collard toured Britain with the Orchestre de Paris and conductor Semyon Bychkov.
When Collard won the Cziffra Competition, one of the jury members was the artistic director of EMI France. He invited Collard to record a disc of Fauré’s complete barcarolles. This was a great success, so the twenty-one-year-old Collard then recorded the complete Études-Tableaux by Rachmaninov, a composer not often played by French pianists. After Vladimir Horowitz heard Collard’s recordings of Fauré and Rachmaninov, he wanted to meet him and they remained friends for the rest of Horowitz’s life. In fact, Collard cites Sancan and Horowitz as the most important influences on his musical life. He received much advice from Horowitz on the music of Rachmaninov and has recorded that composer’s complete music for piano and orchestra, the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 36, the ‘Corelli’ Variations Op. 42, some préludes and Moments Musicaux.
In addition to the barcarolles of Fauré, Collard has recorded his complete nocturnes, impromptus, Préludes Op. 103, some short works and the complete chamber music. Other French music includes works by Debussy and Ravel, an excellent complete set of the piano concertos by Saint-Saëns with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and André Previn, and a superior version of both of Ravel’s piano concertos with Lorin Maazel which won The Gramophone Concerto Award in 1980. In 1989 Collard joined violinist Augustin Dumay in a recording of violin sonatas by Franck and Magnard, the latter a rarity and well worth hearing. Collard has also recorded impressive accounts of Chopin, and his disc of the complete ballades and Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58 is full of drama and passion, always with an underlying elegance.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist