The distinguished Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky plays works for solo piano by Claude Debussy. The cd recorded in 2018, at Médiapôle Saint-Césaire, Impasse de Mourgues, Arles, France.
Harmonia Mundi's centenary edition of the works of Claude Debussy necessarily includes several different interpretations of his keyboard music, and Nikolai Lugansky's single-disc contribution offers only a selection of well-known pieces, featuring the Suite bergamasque and including L'Isle joyeuse, the Deux Arabesques, La plus que lente, Jardins sous la pluie, three pieces from Images II, and the Hommage à Haydn. For the most part, this is an album of reflective pieces that don't require a big sound, and the program shows mostly Lugansky's quiet side, emphasizing his polished technique and ability to glide nearly effortlessly over the keys with a delicate touch and warm tone. These qualities were noted in Debussy's own playing, and the restraint and control displayed here gives us an idea of how the composer's contemporaries likely heard his playing. Listeners new to Debussy may try the famous Clair de lune or the Passepied from the Suite Bergamasque, which are among the composer's greatest hits, though the whole album deserves sampling, if only to get an idea of Lugansky's technical flexibility and refined expressions. Highly recommended.
Source: Blair Sanderson (allmusic.com)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Works for solo piano
1. L'Isle joyeuse. Quasi una cadenza (1904)
2. Deux Arabesques (1888-1891)
i. Andantino con moto
ii. Allegretto scherzando
3. Suite bergamasque (1890, rev. 1905)
i. Prélude. Moderato (tempo rubato)
ii. Menuet. Andantino
iii. Clair de lune. Andante très expressif
iv. Passepied. Allegretto ma non troppo
4. La plus que lente. Valse (1910)
Lent (Molto rubato con morbidezza)
5. Estampes (1903)
iii. Jardins sous la pluie. Net et vif
6. Images, 2e Série (1907)
i. Cloches à travers les feuilles. Lent
ii. Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut. Lent
iii. Poissons d’or. Animé
7. Hommage à Haydn. Mouvement de Valse lente (1909)
Nikolai Lugansky, piano
Recorded in 2018, at Médiapôle Saint-Césaire, Impasse de Mourgues, Arles, France
harmonia mundi 2018
(HD 1080p – Audio video)
When Achille-Claude Debussy entered Antoine Marmontel's class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1872, at the age of ten, he was intended for a brilliant career as a virtuoso pianist. But his family's hopes were quickly disappointed and his studies led to a series of failures in the examinations: a second prize with the first movement of Schumann's Second Sonata in 1877, then no prize at all in 1878 and 1879. His vocation as a pianist was abruptly cut short, which encouraged him to turn towards accompaniment, harmony and composition. His classmates noted in their reminiscences that despite some awkward corners and clumsiness, he had a skilled left hand with an extraordinary capacity for extension, and sometimes obtained amazingly soft, mellow effects. This special touch would remain one of the characteristics of Debussy's playing. When financial constraints obliged him to perform in public as a pianist from 1909 to 1914, playing only his own works (preferably as accompanist rather than soloist), he impressed contemporaries with the beauty of his sound, as his publisher Jacques Durand emphasises in his writings: "At the piano, whether playing his music or other people's, Debussy was a charmer, with a delicate touch. A former student of Marmontel, he had not kept up his finger exercises. But what a finish there was, all the same, in his style of interpretation! When he tackled Chopin, it was a marvel... Debussy used to repeat to pianists who came to him for advice about performing his works: ‘Above all, make me forget, as I listen to you, that the piano has hammers’. A useful lesson to meditate on".
In the 1890s, shortly after completing his cycle for voice and piano Cinq Poèmes de Charles Baudelaire, Debussy, probably pressed by lack of money, sold several publishers the rights to piano pieces, including the Arabesques and the Suite bergamasque. The two Arabesques were published by Durand in October 1891. The choice of title is no coincidence and denotes both a tribute to Schumann's Arabeske and an evocation of the interlacing created by the melodic curve. Even if, according to one of his few pupils, Madame Worms de Romilly, Debussy thought these two pieces "too poor", he nonetheless liked to use the term "arabesque" in connection with his Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune or his first hearing of a mass by Palestrina, à propos of which he described the emotion produced by "melodic arabesques... intersecting to produce... melodic harmonies". When Debussy achieved fame in 1902, the first Arabesque was to become one of his most popular pieces, as may be seen from the number of copies it sold.
The Suite bergamasque, which is contemporary with the Arabesques, has an odd history. Though sold to the firm of Choudens in February 1891, the work was finally not published. It was not to appear until 1905, issued by Fromont, following a negotiation with Debussy in order to settle a complex accounting situation. Although the autograph manuscript has unfortunately not been located, there is a surviving set of proofs showing the revisions Debussy made to it, as he wrote to Madame Fromont on 21 April 1905: "You will have the Suite bergamasque next Tuesday; to give it to you as it stands would be mad and pointless". Thus we can see that he removed superfluous passages in the Prélude, but more especially in the Menuet, and modified certain accidentals, notably in the Passepied. This set followed directly in the wake of the Petite Suite for piano four hands of 1889 and prolongs its Verlainian atmosphere. Initially, the celebrated Clair de lune, a hommage to the first poem in Verlaine's Fêtes galantes, which Debussy had twice set to music for voice and piano (in 1882 and 1891), was called "Promenade sentimentale", a title reminiscent of another poem from the same collection (À la promenade). The eighteenth-century spirit of the Fêtes galantes, with its "maskers and bergamaskers", testifies to Debussy's taste for the musical forms of the French harpsichord composers of that period, especially the minuet and the passepied, a heritage whose value he would constantly proclaim after this: "Where are our old clavecinistes, in whom there is so much real music? They possessed the secret of that profound grace, that emotion without epilepsy, which we renounce like ungrateful children..."
After having abandoned the piano for a decade or so, Debussy returned to it in 1900 to compose a series of triptychs, the first of which was entitled Pour le piano. The second is none other than the Estampes. In the meantime he had become a renowned composer with his opera Pelléas et Mélisande, which enjoyed considerablesuccess in May and June 1902. In the summer of 1903, while working on other projects such as the Rapsodiefor saxophone and orchestra, La Mer and Le Diable dans le beffroi (based on a text by Poe), he corrected the proofs of the Estampes, a title that evokes his taste for the eponymous Japanese engravings. In order to conjure up these contrasting worlds in sound, Debussy used various musical devices: pentatonism in Pagodes (Pagodas); a habanera rhythm in La Soirée dans Grenade (Evening in Granada); and in Jardins sous la pluie (Gardens in the rain) a folksong, "Nous n'irons plus au bois" (We'll to the woods no more), which he had already used in the third of the Images of 1894. The painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, to whom Estampes is dedicated and to whom we owe two portraits of Debussy, records in his memoirs that Jardins sous la pluie was inspired by a stormy afternoon: "While passing through Auteuil, I sketched a study of his head outdoors. It was raining, and the trees gave a green tinge to his dark skin, which the rain seemed to varnish". When the set was issued in October 1903, Debussy thanked Durand for the splendid edition. The published score does indeed reflect the composer's sense of refinement: the title in Japanese-style characters and a monogram in gold, the composer’s name and the titles of the pieces in blue, all printed on Ingres paper. The work was premiered by Ricardo Viñes on 9 January 1904 at a concert organised by the Société Nationale de Musique.
Following La Mer, the "three symphonic sketches" completed in July 1905, Debussy again turned to the piano and conceived two sets of Images. The initial project, as he submitted it to Durand, was vast: twelve pieces, six of which are none other than the two sets of Images for piano, with three more, originally intended for two pianos, which were to become the three Images for orchestra, and a final three that were not named explicitly. The first set of Images for piano appeared in October 1905. Two years later came a second collection. The source of inspiration for Cloches à travers les feuilles (Bells heard through the leaves), which Debussy dedicated to his friend the sculptor Alexandre Charpentier, a great music lover, apparently derives from a custom in the Jura region as described by Louis Laloy, a close friend of the composer: "the touching tradition of the knell that rings from Vespers of All Saints' Day to the Mass of the Dead, traversing the yellowing forests, from village to village, in the silence of the evening". Whatever the truth of this, the title represents a marvellous illustration of the correspondences, in the Symbolist sense of the term, between sounds and nature. It was also Laloy, an eminent orientalist, who suggested the title of the second of the Images: Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (And the moon descends on the temple that is no more). This brilliant scion of the École Normale Supérieure, to whom the piece is dedicated, described it as "a dreamland where [they] gladly went together". Here again, Debussy performed a miracle of sonority by evoking Asia, a continent he did not know, without ever lapsing into a caricature of oriental music. The third of the Images, Poissons d'or (Goldfish), is said to have been inspired by a nineteenth-century Japanese black lacquered wood panel with incrustations in gold and mother-of-pearl, or by a Japanese cigarette case in black lacquer embellished with mother-of-pearl and gold; both objects belonged to Debussy and testify to his taste for asiatic art. The aquatic fluidity of the writing gives way to passages that are sometimes "capricious and flexible" (Debussy's marking, capricieux et souple), sometimes tender. The first performance of this second set of Images took place on 21 February 1908 at the Cercle Musical, with Ricardo Viñes as soloist.
The Hommage à Haydn and La plus que lente date from late 1909 and early 1910 respectively. At the request of the International Music Society, which was commemorating the centenary of the death of the great Viennese composer, six composers, including Debussy, wrote short pieces for piano on a brief theme derived from the letters of Haydn's name (H = B, A = A, Y = D, D = D, N = G). The first, second and fourth notes are French equivalents of German musical notation, while the other two are the application of the alphabetical series of letters to the musical scale. Of the six pieces in homage to Haydn, only those by Debussy and Ravel have survived in the repertory. La plus que lente (The more than slow), it is supposed to have been inspired by Leoni, the solo violin of the orchestra of the Hôtel Carlton in Paris, and testifies to Parisian society's craze for the slow waltz, as illustrated by Erik Satie's famous song Je te veux. Debussy recorded a very fine interpretation of his piece on the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano.
Source: Denis Herlin (CD Booklet)
"Fleet passage-work, drama and pianistic weight are harnessed when appropriate, but the consistently absorbing feature of his performances is the way they dig so deeply into the substance beneath the surface." — The Daily Telegraph
Nikolai Lugansky was born on 26 April 1972 in Moscow, Russia, to research scientist parents. At the age of five, before he had learned to read music, he played a Beethoven piano sonata learned completely by ear. He studied piano at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow Conservatory. His teachers included Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Lugansky won prizes at numerous piano competitions, most notably the Silver Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1994 (no first prize was awarded). At the same time he began to make recordings on the Melodiya (USSR) and Vanguard Classics (Netherlands) labels. His performance at the Winners' Gala Concert of the 10th International Tchaikovsky Competition was recorded and released on the Pioneer Classics label, on both CD and video laser disc formats. This was followed by more recordings for Japanese labels. He went on to make recordings for Warner Classics, Erato Records, Pentatone, Onyx Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, and Naïve Records. In 2018, Lugansky signed an exclusive recording contract with Harmonia Mundi.
Lugansky has performed together with Vadim Repin, Alexander Kniazev, Anna Netrebko, Joshua Bell, Yuri Bashmet, Vadim Rudenko, Mischa Maisky and Leonidas Kavakos, among others.
In addition, Lugansky has collaborated with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Valery Gergiev, Neeme Järvi, Kurt Masur, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Simonov, Leonard Slatkin, Tugan Sokhiev, Vladimir Spivakov, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Temirkanov and Edo de Waart.
In addition to performing and recording, Lugansky teaches at the Moscow Conservatory.
|Nikolai Lugansky (Photo by Jean-Baptiste Millot)|
Claude Debussy: Les Trois Sonates (The Late Works) – Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Javier Perianes, Xavier de Maistre, Antoine Tamestit, Magali Mosnier, Tanguy de Williencourt (Audio video)
Claude Debussy: La Mer – Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk (HD 1080p)
Claude Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune – National Youth Orchestra of the USA, Valery Gergiev (HD 1080p)
Claude Debussy and the Poetic Image
100 Years After Debussy's Death, He Remains the First ‘Modern’ Composer – An essay on Claude Debussy by Stephen Hough in the New York Times
Terrified and delighted: Works by Claude Debussy and André Caplet inspired by Edgar Allan Poe – Musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (HD 1080p)
Claude Debussy: Suite bergamasque, Pour le piano, Estampes, Images (oubliées) – Zoltán Kocsis (Audio video)
Claude Debussy: Images, D'un cahier d'esquisses, L'Isle joyeuse, Deux arabesques, etc. – Zoltán Kocsis (Audio video)