Alice Sara Ott

Alice Sara Ott
Alice Sara Ott (Photo by Ester Haase)

Friday, December 07, 2018

Javier Perianes plays Claude Debussy: Préludes Book I, & Estampes (Audio video)

A century after his death on March 25, 1918, many harmonia mundi artists are eager to pay tribute to Claude Debussy, the magician of melody and timbre, the great "colourist" and father of modern music. Javier Perianes, for his part, wanted to come back to these Préludes that are so close to his heart, after an earlier album devoted to the intangible links between Chopin and Debussy. This First Book, presented here in its entirety alongside the sublime Estampes, plunges us into the heart of music capable of dictating its title to each piece... beneath the final double bar.


Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

♪ Préludes Book I, L.125 (1909-1910)

i Danseuses de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi). Lent et grave

ii. Voiles (Sails). Modéré
iii. Le vent dans la plaine (The wind on the plain). Animé
iv. Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (Sound and perfume swirl in the evening air). Modéré
v. Les collines d'Anacapri (The hills of Anacapri). Très modéré
vi. Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the snow). Triste et lente
vii. Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the west wind saw). Animé et tumultueux
viii. La fille aux cheveux de lin (Girl with the flaxen hair). Très calme et doucement expressif
ix. La sérénade interrompue (The interrupted serenade). Modérément animé
x. La cathedrale engloutie (The sunken cathedral). Profondément calme
xi. La danse de Puck (The dance of Puck). Capricieux et légere
xii. Minstrels. Modéré

♪ Estampes, L.108 (1903)

i. Pagodes. Modérément animé

ii. La soirée dans Grenade. Mouvement de habanera
iii. Jardins sous la pluie. Net et vif

Javier Perianes, piano

Recorded at Teldex Studio Berlin in July 2018

harmonia mundi 2018

(HD 1080p – Audio video)

Although he never pursued a solo career, Debussy was a gifted pianist who maintained a special relationship with his instrument of predilection. Curiously, aside from the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra, he composed relatively little for solo piano between 1880 and 1900. Following on from the Petite Suite for piano four hands of 1889, the Suite bergamasque of 1890 – which was not published until 1905 – and a few other pieces such as the Tarentelle styrienne, the most important cycle he conceived was the Images of 1894, dedicated to Yvonne Lerolle, the daughter of his friend the painter Henry Lerolle. However, with the exception of the Sarabande, this set was not to be published until 1977! Analysis of the works written during those twenty years clearly shows that the young Debussy was chiefly preoccupied with the mélodie, stimulated by his love for the amateur singer Marie Vasnier, but also with orchestral music in the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1893-1894) and the Nocturnes (1898-1900), chamber music in the String Quartet (1892-1893), and opera in Rodrigue et Chimène, on which he worked from 1890 to 1893 before abandoning it for Pelléas et Mélisande, composed from July 1893 to August 1895. Thus he forged his style by moving away from the piano, perhaps because "his extreme facility and the exceptional quality of his gifts could have guaranteed him success as a composer at an age when very few are able to withstand it", to quote Raymond Bonheur, one of his close friends.

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 achieved fame with Pelléas et Mélisande, which enjoyed considerable success in May and June 1902. In the summer of 1903, while working on other projects such as the Rapsodie for 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.

Situated midway between the Estampes and the Études (1915), the Préludes represent a new turning point in his pianistic style, its exploration of the sound world now focusing on creations comparable to prose poems. Debussy calls them préludes, and indeed both the chosen title and the number of pieces (twenty-four counting the two livres together) are a reminder of Bach's preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Chopin Preludes. However, unlike Bach or Chopin who arranged their collections according to a tonal pattern founded on the twelve notes of the scale, Debussy relies on pole notes, B flat for Book I, D flat for Book II. Nevertheless, the composer does not seem to have conceived the set to be performed as a cohesive whole. As Roger-Ducasse, a close friend of Emma Debussy, wrote to Nadia Boulanger in September 1924, these pieces "are not so much preludes as always visual impressions enclosed in some sort of framework".

The other particularity of these two books resides in the fact that Debussy does not give the titles at the beginning, but places them in parenthesis at the end of each piece, always preceded by an ellipsis. Did he perhaps wish to prevent us from attaching too much importance to these, especially since certain préludes go well beyond the suggested programme? This device was also a means of signifying the pre-eminence of the music over the visible world, and indicating too that the former is not subjected to any programme whatsoever. However, these titles do stimulate the imagination by evoking countries such as Spain (La sérénade interrompue), or Italy (Les collines d'Anacapri), a device he had already resorted to in the Estampes and Images.

Few details have come down to us concerning the genesis of the first book of Préludes. Thanks to the dates on some of them and the final note on the composer's manuscript ("Late December 1909. January, a few days in February"), we know that the first book was written over less than three months; it was published in April 1910. Nevertheless, several sketches dating from 1907 and 1908 (Voiles, La fille aux cheveux de lin, La Cathédrale engloutie) show that the work had probably been in gestation for several years. The first prélude, Danseuses de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi), was inspired by a Greek bas-relief that Debussy had admired at the Louvre, representing the dance of three bacchantes. This piece, with its marking "Lent et grave" (Slow and grave), recalls the old form of the sarabande. The second prélude, Voiles, built on a whole-tone scale with a pentatonic interlude, comes to life in bewitching and mysterious fashion, then gradually fade away over a simple interval of a third. According to Roger-Ducasse, the "voiles" in question are the sails of a boat and not the veils deployed by the famous American dancer Loïe Fuller in her fantastical stage shows. Le vent dans la plaine comes from a line by Charles-Simon Favart ("Le vent dans la plaine suspend son haleine", The wind in the plain holds its breath) that Debussy had placed as an epigraph to the first of the Ariettes (1888), C'est l'extase langoureuse. This virtuoso piece built on the interval of a semitone takes the form of a moto perpetuo. The title Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (Sounds and scents swirl in the evening air) is a quotation from the third stanza of Baudelaire's poem Harmonie du soir, which Debussy set in January 1889 as the second song in his cycle Cinq Poèmes de Ch. Baudelaire. The fifth prélude, Les collines d'Anacapri (The hills of Anacapri), is apparently a reminiscence of his residence at the Villa Medici in Rome between 1885 and 1887. "The joyful tarantella rhythms are superimposed on an expressive melody", observed Léon Vallas, one of Debussy's first biographers. Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the snow) seems to refer to a work that has unfortunately not been identified, perhaps by the Norwegian artist Frits Thaulow, one of whose paintings Debussy owned; according to Roger-Ducasse, it recalls a past love affair. Debussy specifies that the haunting and immutable rhythm of this prélude "must be the equivalent in sound of a sad and frozen landscape" (doit avoir la valeur sonore d'un fond de paysage triste et glacé). Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the west wind saw), the title of which was apparently inspired by a work by Paul Claudel, contrasts with the previous piece in its "hot-tempered, tumultuous" (emporté et tumultueux) character, the strident use of the interval of the second and the virtuosity of its runs, which recall the technique of Liszt, whom Debussy called one of the "beaux pianistes" he had heard (in Rome in his youth). La fille aux cheveux de lin (The girl with the flaxen hair), with its archaic sonorities, takes its title from a poem by Leconte de Lisle (No.4 of the "Chansons écossaises" in the Poèmes antiques) that the composer had set to music in 1881 as a mélodie for Madame Vasnier. La sérénade interrompue (The interrupted serenade) is one of those Hispanic creations on a jota rhythm of which Debussy held the secret. Beginning with an imitation of the guitar (the opening is marked "quasi guitarra"), the piece is reminiscent in some respects of Ibéria, the second of the Images pour orchestre (1908), and of Albéniz's El Albaicín. La Cathédrale engloutie (The sunken cathedral) was supposedly inspired by the Breton legend of the city of Ys, which Ernest Renan mentioned in his Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse. On some foggy mornings, it is claimed, one can see the spires of this cathedral city that was engulfed by the sea. Fourth and fifth chords and modal harmonies create the medieval atmosphere of a "softly reverberating mist" (une brume doucement sonore). La danse de Puck is taken from an Arthur Rackham illustration of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. The first book ends with a music-hall parody, Minstrels, referring to a troupe of blackface American musicians who performed the American minstrel repertory.

Debussy made magnificent piano-roll recordings of a few of his préludes, on the subject of which he declared to an Italian journalist who interviewed him in Rome in February 1914: "It is true that I can perform a few of the easiest préludes decently. But the others, where the notes follow on from one another at extreme speed, make me tremble..." The innovations of sonority in the Préludes never cease to astonish. Some commentators have considered them to be Impressionist pieces. However, the Préludes do not aim to imitate nature, but to be, as Debussy wrote, "an emotional transposition of what is ‘invisible’". And he added that music is not "confined to a more or less exact reproduction of nature, but to the mysterious correspondences between nature and the imagination".

Source: Denis Herlin (CD Booklet)

"His demeanour and technique... radiate calm, yet the precision and speed of his fingerwork can be quite shattering. Seldom, if ever, have I encountered such a combination of evident modesty and utter brilliance." — Sunday Times

The international career of Spanish pianist Javier Perianes (b. 1978) has led him to perform in the most prestigious concert halls, with the world's top orchestras, collaborating with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Charles Dutoit, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Gustavo Dudamel, Sakari Oramo, Yuri Temirkanov, Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, Long Yu, Simone Young, Vladimir Jurowski, Josep Pons, David Afkham and Daniel Harding, and appearing at festivals such as BBC Proms, Mainly Mozart, Lucerne, La Roque d'Anthéron, Grafenegg, San Sebastian, Granada and Ravinia. Described by The Telegraph as "a pianist of impeccable and refined tastes, blessed with a warmth of touch", Javier Perianes was awarded the "National Music Prize" in 2012 by the Ministry of Culture of Spain and is International Classical Music Awards (ICMA) "Artist of the Year 2019".

In the 2018-2019 season, Perianes returns to the London Philharmonic Orchestra to perform a Beethoven Cycle over two consecutive evenings at the Royal Festival Hall after a Spanish tour with conductor Juanjo Mena. He will also perform Beethoven on tours in Australia and New Zealand, as well as touring the United States performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No.27 with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, culminating with a return to Carnegie Hall in New York.

In addition to Mozart and Beethoven, this season Perianes performs works by Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Grieg, Falla and Bartók with orchestras such as Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with Marin Alsop, Toronto Symphony with Han-na Chang, Orchestre de Paris and Bergen Philharmonic with Klaus Mäkelä, St Louis Symphony and Gustavo Gimeno, San Francisco Symphony and Pablo Heras-Casado, Milwaukee Symphony with Matthias Pintscher, Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Antonio Méndez, Gävle Symphony with Jaime Martín in Sweden and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Tampere Philharmonic with Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the BBC Scottish with Thomas Dausgaard, and the Czech Philharmonic with Louis Langrée in his return to the Prague Spring Festival.

In recital, Javier Perianes undertakes an extensive European tour that will bring him to cities such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Oslo, Lisbon, Istanbul, Essen, Barcelona and Madrid, with a programme comprising works by Chopin, Debussy – composers to whom he devotes his next solo album releases – and Falla.

Perianes is also a natural and keen chamber musician and plays with a variety of partners. Last season saw him once again collaborate with artists such as Tabea Zimmermann at the National Auditorium in Madrid and the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, and the Quiroga Quartet on a tour of Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as recording Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano for harmonia mundi in his first collaboration with Jean-Guihen Queyras.

Previous seasons' highlights include concerts with the Wiener Philhamoniker, Royal Concertgebouw, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco Symphony orchestras, Oslo, London, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras, Orchestre de Paris, Philharmonia Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Danish National, Washington National, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian Radio Orchestras, the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony and Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

Recording exclusively for harmonia mundi, Perianes has developed a diverse discography ranging from Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Grieg, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel and Bartók to Blasco de Nebra, Mompou, Falla, Granados and Turina. His recording of Grieg's Piano Concerto and a selection of Lyric Pieces was described as "a new benchmark" by Classica, which awarded it a "Choc"; it was also Editor's Choice in Gramophone and Maestro in Pianiste magazine. His "elegant survey" and "brilliant performance" (New York Times) of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words also awarded him the "Choc" by Classica and his inclusion in the "Top 10 Mendelssohn recordings" by Gramophone magazine. His recording of Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain and selected solo works also received Classica's "Choc" and Gramophone's Editor's Choice, in addition to a Latin Grammy Nomination. His latest albums include the sonatas D.960 and D.664 by Franz Schubert, described as "a true lyric gift" (Gramophone), and the Piano Concerto No.3 by Béla Bartók with the Münchner Philharmoniker and Pablo Heras-Casado.


More photos

See also

100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy – All the posts

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