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Claude Debussy

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Classical iconoclast

Today

Gatti Berlin Phil : French Modernism Honegger

Classical iconoclast "Masterworks of French Modernism", the title of Daniele Gatti's concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Debussy La Mer, the key piece that opened new horizons, a magical work which, like the ocean keeps changing, revealing its depths in good performance. "God is in the detail" said Gatti in the interval interview, explaining how the arc of a performance is built upon many layers of detail.  The term "Impressionism" is a tag that's stuck because it does describe the idea of creating a whole made up of tiny cells of pure colour.  Impressionist paintings shocked viewers because they seemed to shine from within, because each stroke of paint seemed to glow with inner light.   Now, perhaps The Shock of The New has worn off with millions of reproductions on coffee mugs, t shirts and so on.  But in music, every good performance is new, an original recreation in its own right.    Daniele Gatti is too good to do routine, and with an orchestra as good as the Berliner Philharmoniker, there was no way this performance would fail.  There are so many brilliant La Mers around that we've all heard better, but also even more that are infinitely worse, and that's something to be glad about in a world where mediocrity is increasingly prized over excellence. Not a "coffee mug" performance by any means, even if the real revelations on this occasion came in Honegger and Dutilleux. Arthur Honegger's Symphony no 3 and Henri Dutilleux Métaboles have both been part of the Berlin Philharmonic's repertoire for some years. Simon Rattle conducted Métaboles as recently as 2013, with more or less the same musicians.  Although much of Dutilleux's best work lies in miniatures and chamber pieces, Métaboles  is scored for large orchestra.  It flows over five movements each wiuth a distinctive personality : not variations but a series of developments, characterized by meticulous detail - a kind of refined embroidery.  To borrow metaphors from painting, Pointillism, as opposed to Impressionism.  Gatti's approach is softer grained than Rattle's, which may be more authentic but which might appeal to the already converted than to those coming new to the composer.  There is a powerful Dutilleux lobby, so influential that it could demand chapters on Dutilleux in books about Messiaen.  A bit petty, since both composers are very different indeed, and there's no need to play silly status games. Better to absorb the music on its own terms.  A few years ago, I attended a Dutilleux recital at the Wigmore Hall (read more here). The composer, then aged 92, was present, enjoying himself hugely because Jan Pascal Tortelier's father was a close personal friend.  Afterwards, my friend and I had a long dinner, leaving close to midnight. And who should we see but Henri Dutilleux, walking back to his hotel around the block. We waved. He beamed. Herbert Karajan conducted Honegger's Symphony no 3 (Symphonie Liturgique)  with the Berliners in 1969, so long ago that it's pointless to compare.  Whoever uploaded the performance to YT knew what they were doing by illustrating it with a drawing by George Rouault. Connections to painting again.  No pretty pointillism for Rouault : his work is marked by ferocious dark outlines, defining the images within . The colours in his famous series of paintings of Christ seem to glow like stained glass even though they are oppressed by savage framework, which is utterly appropriate. Written in the winter of 1945/6, Honegger's piece deals explicitly with the horrors of war, and the challenges of a new era. The Dies Irae with its ferocious outcries, expresses anguish.  Rouault's suffering Christ, depicted in sound.   Honegger, being Swiss was a neutral in occupied France, but no less involved with what was going on around him.  The second movement, De profundis clamavi, is a slow, but not peaceful meditation. What must we do that to counter violence and hate ?  Slower, more amorphous figures, long lines that seem to float on a stream of mysterious detail.  Gatti's unhurried attentiveness works well: we cannot afford to gloss over these complexities. This is the dark soul of the whole symphony.  The movement concludes with intense outbursts from the brass, angular shapes against the horizontal keening in the strings. The last movement, Dona Nobis Pacem, doesn't, however, "grant us peace". Instead, it moves in the form of a solemn procession, lit with violent alarums from brass.  One could visualize a cortege marching at night,  the darkness broken by malevolent flames, whipped by turbulent winds. Obvious connections with Honegger's masterpiece Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher written in 1938, when Honegger was well aware of the threat posed by Hitler.  Joan of Arc stands up to invaders, but is martyred.  As the flames rise round her, though, she sees visions of saints and angels, and the voices who lead her return at last, taking  her up to heaven. Peace, of a sort, is achieved but only through confronting evil and suffering : no avoidance, no prettying up.  Honegger's Symphony no 3 isn't just a masterwork of modernism but a powerful document of how music can inspire the mind and soul.  Please read my other work on Honegger and especially on  Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher by following the links below and on the right.

Guardian

September 21

Leif Ove Andsnes review – genial but bland

Barbican, London The Norwegian pianist’s performance was technically and musically, but lacked personality and riskLeif Ove Andsnes’s recital was a legacy from last season, when he featured in one of the LSO’s artist portraits. The solo appearance that was part of that residency had to be postponed, and rescheduling it now, Andsnes stuck more or less to his original programme, or at least to the same collection of composers: Beethoven, Sibelius, Debussy and Chopin.There was, though, something rather routine about it all. The Beethoven sonata with which Andsnes opened, the E flat Op 31 No 3, promised better in its clear outlines, clean textures and crisply sprung rhythms. It wasn’t especially characterful or witty, just a genial, well-mannered account of the most easygoing of the Op 31 sonatas. The piano pieces by Sibelius, though, needed something more than good manners to make them seem worthwhile. Andsnes had plundered several collections to make his sequence, from the Impromptus of the early 1890s to the weird, spiky Rondino of 1912, and the Schumann-like Elegiaco of a few years later, but there was never enough personality, in the music or the performances, to make them memorable. Continue reading...






Claude Debussy
(1862 – 1918)

Claude Debussy (August 22, 1862 - March 25, 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is among the most important of all French composers, and a central figure in European music of the turn of the 20th century. He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903. His music is noted for its sensory component and for not often forming around one key or pitch. Often Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence in his own life. His music virtually defines the transition from late-Romantic music to 20th century modernist music. In French literary circles, the style of this period was known as symbolism, a movement that directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.



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