Friday, February 10, 2012

Sunday Classics preview: Mezzo Susan Graham shares her favorite Debussy: "Clair de lune"!


"Why I will go into my house in the hills of Santa Fe with nobody around, open the doors, lift up the lid of my grand piano and play this piece, is because it feels like it's just for me."
-- mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, in "Impressions of
Debussy," in the February 2012 issue of BBC Music Magazine

by Ken

In celebration of Debussy's "150th birthday celebration," BBC Music Magazine has put together one of its more interesting issues. First there's a feature on "The French Revolutionary," with a team of writers focusing on five seminal masterpieces: the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the afternoon of a faun, 1894), the three orchestral Nocturnes (1900), the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1902), the two sets of Préludes for piano (1909-13), and the orchestral "poème dansé" Jeux (Games, 1913) -- interlaced with an assortment of sidebars. Then there's a piece called "Impressions of Debussy," in which: "Nine Debussy performers and experts tell us the works that have inspired them most."

There's variety in the choices of the nine "performers and experts," and also in the way they talk about their choices. I thought some of them were interesting and specific enough to be worth reading while being able to hear the music, so that's what we're going to do this week and next.

Some of the choices are unexpected. Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, for example, says, "Neither of the pieces by Debussy that inspire me most are for piano." (The two pieces: the opera Pelléas et Mélisande" and the orchestral poem Jeux. We're going to hear a snippet of Pelléas and the whole of Jeux -- it's only about 16 minutes -- on Sunday.) Contrarily, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham picks a piano piece, the haunting "Clair de lune" (from the Suite bergamasque).

DEBUSSY: "Clair de lune" from Suite bergamasque --
in various arrangements

We've actually already heard all the recordings we're going to hear today, in "Debussy -- the man who heard the music in moonlight," the first of two previews to the April 2010 Debussy post. We'll hear the real thing in the click-through. Not surprisingly, the music has been arranged-adapted for every imaginable musical instrument and combination of instruments. These arrangements all have their charms.

played on the organ of NYC's Riverside Church

Virgil Fox, organ of the Riverside Church, New York City. Capitol, recorded 1960
arranged for guitar

Angel Romero, arr. and guitar. Telarc, recorded Aug. 3-6, 1987
arranged for violin and piano

Jascha Heiftez, violin; Emanuel Bey, piano (arr. Roelens). American Decca, recorded Nov. 29, 1945



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At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

Thanks Keni,

One of my favorites.

For just a moment I thought I was even MORE ignorant of classical music than I know I am when I saw Susan Graham as in, "I didn't know it had LYRICS?"

At 4:54 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

My fault, Bil, for not figuring out a way to present simply and clearly this intriguing situation wherein one of our most prominent singers gets her Debussyan frissons at the keyboard.

I think anyone who READS the thing will get it, but the idea was to communicate this well enough to make the glancer want to make the jump into reading. Oh well.



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