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Claude Debussy

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


My Classical Notes

Yesterday

Piano Daydreams

My Classical NotesThis is a wonderful collection of solo piano compositions played by different artists, such as Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Lang Lang, and more. Here is a long list of the selections that are recorded for your enjoyment: Bach, J S: Prelude & Fugue Book 1 No. 1 in C major, BWV846: Prelude Hélène Grimaud (piano) Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’: Adagio sostenuto Daniel Barenboim (piano) Brahms: Intermezzo in E flat major, Op. 117 No. 1 Wilhelm Kempff (piano) Chopin: Nocturne No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2 Daniel Barenboim (piano) Nocturne No. 5 in F sharp major, Op. 15 No. 2 Daniel Barenboim (piano) Prelude Op. 28 No. 4 in E minor Martha Argerich (piano) Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A major Martha Argerich (piano) Debussy: Préludes – Book 1: No. 8, La fille aux cheveux de lin Dino Ciani (piano) Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque) Alexis Weissenberg (piano) Grieg: Lyric Pieces Op. 43: No. 6 – To Spring Mikhail Pletnev (piano) Lyric Pieces Op. 54: No. 4 – Nocturne Andrei Gavrilov (piano) Liszt: Consolation, S. 172 No. 3 in D flat major Daniel Barenboim (piano) Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 (Nocturne in A flat major) Yundi Li (piano) Mendelssohn: Song without Words, Op. 19b No. 1 in E major ‘Sweet Remembrance’ Daniel Barenboim (piano) Song without Words, Op. 30 No. 6 in F sharp minor ‘Venezianisches Gondellied No. 2’ Daniel Barenboim (piano) Rachmaninov: Prelude Op. 23 No. 4 in D major Lazar Berman (piano) Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G sharp minor Lilya Zilberstein (piano) Satie: Gymnopédie No. 1 Jean-Marc Luisada (piano) Schubert: Impromptu in G flat major, D899 No. 3 Daniel Barenboim (piano) Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15: Traümerei Lang Lang (piano)

Tribuna musical

July 12

Three interesting concerts in two days

Choice is difficult in our intense musical life, especially for a reviewer. I miss several worthwhile events every week, generally due to collisions. Last Tuesday I didn´t have a problem and I went to the so-called Impressionist Gala of La Bella Música. But on Wednesday I was present at 1 pm at the Mozarteum Midday Concert, at 5 pm I relished a Shakespeare in Symphonic Music session at the Colón, and at 8pm, same place, I saw the ballets of "Contemporary night". And I missed what must have been a delectable concert of Slavic songs by Daniela Tabernig and Alexander Panizza organised by the Fundación Música de Cámara at the Museo de Arte Decorativo at 7 pm. La Bella Música gives its concerts this year at the Brick Hotel (ex Caesar Park) in an ample First Floor hall of acceptable acoustics. They presented the Cuarteto Petrus, surely one of the best we have, in the two emblematic quartets of Impressionism, those of Debussy and Ravel. A short but pithy programme (57 minutes), a typical coupling of vinyl LP times. And a hard one to supplement, for the French production of quartets is lean, and those that come to mind aren´t Impressionistic. Outside that aesthetic line options could be relatively short quartets by Roussel, Milhaud or Fauré (a late, autumnal and severe score). Debussy´s Quartet was written when he was 31, mulling over his first orchestral masterpiece, "Prélude à l´après-midi d´un faune". The Quartet is beautiful and complex, making the most of small melodic cells; however, its textures are a bit dense now and then. Ravel´s dates from 1903, ten years later, and it shows: at 28 he handles the medium with greater skill; the sounds are more aerated and special uses of the strings are more often employed. It is a fascinating score, quite Impressionistic. Cellular phones were heard rather often during the Debussy performance; in the brief interval La Bella Música´s President Patricia Pouchulu scolded the offenders, and the first violinist Pablo Saraví said "we don´t want competition". Was this a factor in the relatively less accomplished Debussy performance as compared with the Ravel? Perhaps. But these first-rate professionals emitted some rather harsh sounds and omitted subtleties that were needed, with the exception of violist Adrián Felizia, who maintained a lovely timbre and perfect technique in both scores. Saraví, Hernán Briático (second violin) and Gloria Pankaeva (cello) were below their considerable best in Debussy, but fortunately found their form in Ravel, which went very well. As did their encore, not Impressionistic indeed, a typical Piazzolla piece. The Indiana University Virtuosi have visited us before, though it isn´t mentioned in the hand programme, and at the same place, the Gran Rex. They were here on June 20, 2013. The Jacobs School of Music Virtuosi is in Bloomington, the biggest of the eight campuses of this great university (115.000 students). The group that came now was stunning: nine violinists (boys and girls between 14- and 18-years-old) playing with total unanimity, splendid timbric quality and exact tuning. No wonder they have so many admirable orchestras in the USA: many youngsters have natural talent but they also undergo intensive and well-oriented training such as this school provides. Mimi Zweig is the Directress of the String Academy, though in this tour the players were accompanied by two Co-Directresses, Brenda Brenner and Susan Moses, and in concert by pianist Wonmin Kim, always clean and well coordinated with the violinists. One astonishing thing: the kids didn´t use scores, everything was committed to flawless memories. Two pieces were played by soloists with piano: Sydney Hartwick (a girl) in a clever arrangement of Saint-Saëns´ "Dance macabre" and Maria Sanderson in Wieniawski Polonaise Nº1; both were very good. Kreisler´s Neo-baroque Prelude and Allegro and Telemann´s truly Baroque Concerto for four violins were both played by the nine violinists with no change in the scores. After a folk interlude (the Russian Gypsy "Two guitars") and the solo pieces we heard a well-conceived arrangement by Atar Arad of Bartók´s Sonatina for piano, here for nine players divided in threes. Then, three scenes from Bizet´s "Carmen" in an idiomatic arrangement by Gilles Tremblay and a North South Medley by Francisco Cortés-Álavrez that includes two tangos. And of course some Piazzolla for encore... The Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Colón gives free concerts at the theatre on certain afternoons. This time Guillermo Scarabino, who has a vast career and has been associated with the Académica since its foundation, chose with intelligence three scores inspired on Shakespeare: a selection from the music for the Kozintsev film "Hamlet" (1964) by Shostakovich; the three "Comentarios para ´Romeo y Julieta´ " by Carlos López Buchardo (incidental music for a 1934 staging of the play); and the Suite from the music for the film "Henry V" by William Walton as compiled by Muir Mathieson, who was the conductor of the soundtrack for Laurence Olivier´s fine direction (1944). The Shostakovich pieces are stark and impressive, with ominous orchestrations ("The Ghost", "Poisoning Scene"); López Buchardo gives us images of youthful love before the tragedy in nice, very tonal music; and Walton alternates soft melodic pieces with others connected with the Globe Theatre and the Battle of Agincourt (citing its famous old tune). All was played rather well in this short (47 minutes) concert, presented and conducted by Scarabino with professional aplomb. For Buenos Aires Herald




Classical iconoclast

July 8

Pelléas et Mélisande Aix - dream but not a dream

Pelléas et Mélisande at Aix en Provence : orchestrally stunning and vocally top notch. But something was missing.  Debussy understood Maeterlinck's use of symbols : images deliberately created to unsettle and disorient, to deflect attention away from the surface to things unseen, lurking in the depths. Hence the references to towers and dizzying heights above the ground, and to silent ponds and open oceans, to caves and underground passages, to death and to constant danger.  Pelléas et Mélisande fascinates because it's elusive. This production will appeal to many because it's lovely to look at but it's not Pelléas et Mélisande, but Mélisande The Opera. But who is  Mélisande, and why is she in Allemonde ?  Barbara Hannigan is such a celebrity these days that that the whole production seems designed around her, which is fair enough. She has remarkable strengths, and it would be a waste not to make the most f them.  Hannigan's Mélisande is feisty, physical and extremely strong,  a manifestation of female sexuality, which is indeed, a part of the role : those towers and caves are there for a purpose !  Hannigan's looks also play a part, and she gets to disrobe and romp about in nude coloured undies an awful lot : hers is a body that works out a lot in the gym, and is almost androgynous, like Diana, the goddess of the hunt and of the moon, another of the many symbols in Maeterlinck's original play.  Mélisande as hunter and killer: the dramaturge, Martin Crimp is onto something more complex than Mélisande wan and wraithlike as a child of the moon.  Nearly ten years ago. at the Royal Opera House,  Angelika Kirschlager portayed Mélisande in much the same way and was the saving grace of an unevenly focused production from Salzburg that was never revived.  But there's a lot more to Mélisande than this production suggests. I loved Martin Crimp's Into the Little Hill and Written on Skin for George Benjamin (more HERE and HERE), so I have a lot of respect for his insight into this opera. But this time the balance between poetic fantasy and literal narrative goes awry. Pelléas et Mélisande isn't an opera in the usual sense. It's deliberately non naturalistic, and the narrative non-literal.  Katie Mitchell directs the opera as if it were a dream sequence in which Mélisande acts out sexual fantasies. Hence the wedding gown in which she appears in the first scene.   But those who do know the opera would focus more on the greenery that surrounds the bedroom.  Golaud is out hunting, when he spots Mélisande  alone, in the middle of the forest, by a pool.  Anyone up to speed with mythology would recognize she's a variation of the eternal Loreley. And Loreleys don't wreak havoc. It's not personal.  Perhaps Mélisande loves Pelléas, but the libretto  fairly explicitly suggests that their relationship is more  a pact between innocents.  Stéphane Degout is probably the best Pelléas around these days, so wonderful in this role that it is a shame that he, too, is reduced to a prop in order to emphasize the role of Mélisande and her dreams.  There's a charge between them but it isn't necessarily sexual. The libretto suggests that Pelléas needs to get well away from Allemonde if he wants any sort of future, and Mélisande represents the world beyond, and the unknown. Golaud gets jealous because he doesn't have the wit to understand.that not all relationships are self gratification things might not be the way he assumes.  Laurent Naouri has done Golaud so often that he's brilliant, authoritative yet also sympathetic, much too complex a personality to be a mere figment of Mélisande's imagination.  When Golaud and Pelléas descend into the suffocating caves beneath the castle, they are undergoing psychological trauma.  We know from the script that the sea lies beyond, but in mthis production Degout and Naouri are trapped in the bowels of the castle.  The staircase, nonetheless is a good visual image, for it's twisted, rickety and possibly unsafe, so the set makes the point quite effectively. For Pelléas, there is no escape. Allemonde is not so much a castle, as a state of mind: It's cut off from its hinterland, the peasants are starving and roaming about in revolt, Yniold is terrified when he ventures out to play. None of which we see in this production, though  Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra are brilliant at creating non visual imagery, for those in the audience who pay attention to music.  Under Salonen, the orchestra has developed way beyond the usual parameters of a symphony orchestra. The challenge of opera serves them well. This was a performance so vivid and impassioned that I was glad to listen, since the playing spoke much more expressively than the staging.  Degout and Naouri have the parts so fully characterized that they acted properly, their bodies extensions of their voices.  Mitchell directed Hannigan to move in trance like  stylization, valid enough in theory, but deadening in practice. The silly eyeliner Hannigan had to wear didn't help, either, suggesting slut rather than half-human vixen. Franz Josef Selig sang an excellent, virile Arkel,  and Sylvie Brunet Gruppuso sang a nicely down to earth Geneviève, both of them common sense counterfoils that emphacised the bizarre nature of this Mélisande's dream world.  Altogether a very good Pelléas et Mélisande despite the over emphasis on Hnnigan's thing for nudity which is wearing thin these days. She can sing, so she really doesn't need to make an exhibition.  The dream concept might be valid but it doesn't do the opera, and other singers, justice.  Less sex, please, but more mystery. See also the review in Opera Today by Michael Milensky.



My Classical Notes

July 4

Cellist Cicely Parnas

As soon as I saw this name, it rang a bell for me. And once I did a bit of research, my suspicions were confirmed. I firmly believe that the key to achieving excellence in music are three factors: Hard work, great teachers, and more hard work. However, it is also quite helpful to have some strong musical DNA flowing through your veins. In this case the DNA is from the grandfather, Leslie Parnas. 20-year-old American cellist Cicely Parnas is recognized for bringing “velvety sound, articulate passagework and keen imagination” to her performances (The New York Times). In 2012, Cicely Parnas made her Carnegie Hall debut performing the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto with the New York String Orchestra under the baton of Jaime Laredo. The New York Times raved: “Cicely Parnas, a fast-rising young cellist, was the impressive soloist in a rhapsodic performance.” Granddaughter of the distinguished cellist Leslie Parnas, Cicely Parnas started playing the cello at the age of four and made her concerto debut at eleven with the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra. She has studied with cellists Peter Wiley and Ronald Feldman, and earned an Artist Diploma from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where she worked with Sharon Robinson. Ms. Parnas performs on a 1712 Giovanni Grancino cello. Cicely often performs with her sister, who is a violinist. Here is an example of one of Duo Parnas’ recordings. Listen with me now, as Cicely Parnas performs the Cello Sonata by Claude Debussy:

My Classical Notes

July 4

Noriko Ogawa Plays Satie

150 years after his birth, Erik Satie is still one of the great enigmas of classical music – a composer who said of himself ‘I am not fond of jokes… I never make jokes’ but is nevertheless regarded as one of the great jokers of Western music; In this anniversary year, Noriko Ogawa launches a complete set of Satie’s music for solo piano – a body of works which includes the sets of Gnossiennes and Gymnopédies, which through their use in countless movie sound tracks have reached and affected audiences across the planet. Noriko Ogawa, whose acclaimed recordings include music by Mozart and Rachmaninov as well as complete recordings of the piano music by her compatriot Toru Takemitsu and by Debussy (a friend and rival of Satie’s) performs all of this on an instrument from Satie’s own time – an exquisite Erard grand piano built in 1890, the very year that Satie composed his Gnossienne. We have an opportunity to listen to the following: Satie: Gnossienne No. 1 Gnossienne No. 2 Gnossienne No. 3 Gnossienne No. 4 Gnossienne No. 5 Gnossienne No. 6 Gnossienne No. 7 Chapitres tournés en tous sens Avant Dernières Pensées (Idylle, Aubade, Méditation) Croquis et Agaceries d’un Gros Bonhomme en bois Sonatine Bureaucratique Poudre d’or Embryons desséchés Descriptions automatiques Heures séculaires et instantanées Prélude en tapisserie Les trois valses distinguées du précieux dégouté Je te veux Trois Gymnopédies Perfromed by Noriko Ogawa (piano) Here, for your enjoyment, is Noriko Ogawa, speaking and playing the music of Clause Debussy:

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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