Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Classics: More "Impressions of Debussy"


By way of an opening tease, we hear this c1982 Vox recording by the great Czech pianist Ivan Moravec of "Reflets dans l'eau" ("Reflections in the water") from the First Series of Debussy's Images for Piano.

Debussy, I came to realize, was much more than a musical painter. When Nocturnes was premiered in 1901, his orchestrations seemed to defy description, with their subtle, quiet ways and infinite expressiveness. While many composers were embarking on brash post-Wagnerism and serialism, Debussy was staging a quiet revolution with broad brushstrokes and delicate textures.
-- BBC Music Magazine Editor Oliver Condy, introducing
the February feature celebrating Debussy's 150th birthday

by Ken

The lines above are actually plucked out of Oliver Condy's editorial "Welcome" to BBC Music Magazine's February 2012 coverage of Debussy. As a matter of fact, if you restore an initial "but" that I've omitted, they follow directly upon the chunk of text you'll find in the click-through, in which Oliver talks about his initial encounter with Debussy initially as a teenage piano student.

As I explained in Friday night's preview, the BBC Music Magazine celebration of Debussy's 150th birthday consists, first, of a survey by a team of music writers of five seminal masterpieces of "The French Revolutionary" (with a generous assortment of sidebarred extras) plus a set of "Impressions of Debussy" in which "Nine Debussy performers and experts tell us the works that have inspired them most." Friday night we had mezzo-soprano Susan Graham talking about her lifelong fascination with the piano prélude "Clair de lune." (She explains: "I was a serious piano student before I studied singing, and 'Clair de lune' is still a very big part of my life.")

A number of the "impressions" of those nine "performers and experts" struck me as interesting enough, or at least seemed to me to direct attention in interesting enough directions, that I thought it would be fun to read them while actually hearing the music. I've taken the liberty of adding Oliver Condy's recollection to the mix, and culled six works in addition to our already-heard "Clair de lune."

Today we're going to hear three more classic piano pieces and one orchestral one. Then next week (probably -- I never know for sure until it happens) we'll hear a less-often-heard chamber work, one I can say I barely knew; a tease from Debussy's only full-length opera, Pelléas et Mélisande (a down payment on an eventual post, or posts, about the opera); and his last work for orchestra, Jeux.



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