Of the compilations released to mark the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy's birth this year, this is the most treasurable. As a survey of the music of perhaps of the greatest 20th-century composer it could hardly be bettered, especially within recordings from a single label, or rather, a single group of labels, for as well as Deutsche Grammophon recordings it also includes material from Philips and Decca, which are all now part of the Universal stable.
More than ten years after the Art of Noise left Trevor Horn's ZTT label to record on their own, original members Anne Dudley and Paul Morley reunited with Horn plus 10cc's Lol Creme to record another LP, organized around the work of French modernist composer Claude Debussy. With a guest list including John Hurt as well as Rakim, the album charts the artistic use of sampled breakbeats – pioneered by the Art of Noise themselves – with nods to '80s hip-hop plus their '90s equivalent, drum'n'bass. Though the Art of Noise doesn't sound quite as brash as they did in their '80s prime, The Seduction of Claude Debussy is an interesting showcase of what made the group great.
Two books of Debussy’s piano preludes were composed in 1910 and 1913, respectively. Unlike similar opuses by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and others, they had no tonal sequence, and each piece was conceived as an individual work. In whole, the cycle is a sort of concise encyclopedia of the great French composer’s music with its fanciful and sophisticated, but so imperceptibly attractive combination of romanticism and impressionism, centuries-old traditions of piano music and cultural paradoxes of the 20th century. The titles Debussy gave to each of the preludes (they are sooner poetic metaphors) are put in the end rather than in the beginning of the notes and not intended to impose a certain character on the listener. Instead, they seem to ask riddles as if they check whether the mood of a piece is caught correctly. Debussy’s preludes found a fine and thoughtful interpreter in the person of Alexei Lyubimov.
In many ways, Debussy’s piano music finds its rightful home on the harp. Apart from the distinctive textural and colouristic elements in the writing itself, we have contemporary accounts of Debussy’s piano-playing that refer to his ability to make you forget a piano even had hammers. Of course, this doesn’t allow for dreamy, “impressionistic” interpretations; rather, it makes clarity and precision absolute imperatives – which qualities we find in abundance in this recital by Xavier de Maistre and friends.
Debussy's Études are really the only set that deserves to be put beside Chopin's. What makes them so special? Like his, they are truly "practice pieces," systematically exploring various aspects of keyboard technique. But at the same time, they are poetic works of art, full of fantasy, charm, and musical invention. Uchida's recording is almost universally regarded as the finest version of these works to appear in modern times. Her playing combines effortless virtuosity with pianistic precision, keeping the music's artistic and pedagogical tendencies in a state of exquisite tension. This disc also established Uchida's claim to be recognized as one of the most interesting and talented pianists now active. You need to hear it.
Sibelius's Symphony No.3 was composed in 1907. It is the link between the romantic intensity of his first two symphonies and the more cold complexity of his later symphonies. Symphony No.7 was completed in 1924 and is notable for having only one movement. The Swan of Tuonela is a tone poem based on the Kalevala epic of Finnish mythology. The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Yevgeny Mravinsky pair these with Debussy's Nocturnes Nos.1 & 2.
The works on this CD stem from the early and from the late period of Debussys creative life, and are for these reasons not typical Debussy, in the sense that they eschew the impressionistic features so often associated with the composer. The piano trio is a sumptuously romantic work, with echoes of Schumann and Franck, whereas the cello sonata and violin sonata are part of the 6 sonata project which Debussy started in 1915, but didnt complete because of his untimely death in 1918 (only 3 sonatas were composed). The music is transparent, with neoclassical hints, and sometimes with Stravinskian bite and humour. The musicians on this CD, Federico Guglielmo, Luigi Puxeddu and Jolanda Violante have won their spurs mainly in Early Music; therefore their view on these works is fresh and open, with infectious esprit and zest. As bonus a series of short and much loved pieces in arrangements: Reverie, Arabesque, Minstrels, La fille aux cheveux de lin, and two early original miniatures for cello and piano.
Debussy is closer to the expressionism of Schoenberg than to the chiselled sonorities of a Chopin or the extravagant virtuosity of a Liszt, even if his refined art can still be seen in the line of tradition of 19th-century music. This is frequently forgotten in the interpretation as well as the assessment of his oeuvre. Debussy himself decried the concept of musical impressionism because he feared, rightly, that superficial refinement would degenerate into musical mist, concealing the subtleties of a new musical idiom and its structural logic. Thus, for example, instead of heading his 24 “Préludes” in two books with programmatic titles in his autograph score, he appended them at the bottom of the individual pieces.
In addition to the traditional pairing of the Debussy and Ravel string quartets, the Arcanto Quartett performs Henri Dutilleux's Ainsi la Nuit (1971-1976), a grouping that is becoming increasingly popular on recordings. These are absolutely secure, thoughtful, self-effacing readings of the Debussy and the Ravel. While the quartet doesn't bring particular new revelations to the pieces, the members play with nuanced sensitivity and impeccable musicianship. The haunted quiet they achieve in the first part of the third movement of the Debussy is especially impressive, as is the clarity of their sense of direction and unity in the final movement, the most difficult of the four to pull off. Similarly in the Ravel, the contrast between the serenity of the third movement and the raw athleticism of the fourth is attention-grabbing and invigorating.
Das Orchester der Beethovenhalle Bonn, seit 1995 unter der Leitung von Marc Soustrot, wurde 1897 in Koblenz als Philharmonisches Orchester gegründet und zehn Jahre später von der Stadt Bonn übernommen. Erst 1957, mit Errichtung der Beethovenhalle, erhielt es seinen jetzigen Namen. Von großen Dirigenten geleitet hat sich das Orchester in der deutschen und internationalen Musikszene etabliert. Soustrot gehört zu den wenigen französischen Dirigenten, die sich nicht auf Konzert oder Oper spezialisiert haben und daher über vielseitige Erfahrungen in beiden Bereichen verfügen…