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Claude Debussy

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Classical iconoclast

April 29

Visions of Wonder Debussy, Abrahamsen, Mahler 4 CBSO Volkov

Classical iconoclast Child-like visions of wonder and excitement : a potentially brilliant concert from the City of Birmingham Orchestra with Ilan Volkov  Hans Abrahamsen's Left Alone was the big draw, the premiere of a major work by an extremely significant composer, noted for his inventiveness and  individuality. Left Alone is a return to Abraham's creative roots, far more characteristic of his style than  Let me Tell You, which may be his Valse Triste, popular but not typical of his music. I hope he gets paid better than Sibelius did.  Abrahamsen isn't the sort of composer you associate with smash hits.  He's hardly ever written for voice. He doesn't need to. "Music is pictures of music", he once said. "That is a strong underlying element in my world of ideas when I compose - as is the fictional aspect that one moves around in an imaginary space of music. What one hears is pictures - basically, music is already there." Abrahamsen's music listens, as a child listens, with purity and wonder.  It's alert to the kind of quiet detail atht gets missed in a world of white noise and bluster. A child doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. He or she can marvel, without precondition.  One of my friends hated Abrahamsen's Schnee (2007) because it "feels like watching snow fall", but for me,that's precisely what I love about Abrahamsen.  Buddhists believe that the path to wisdom lies in divesting oneself of Self and the need to control,. Abrahamsen's music examines sounds form different angles and, importantly, through silence, the antithesis of mental muzak  In Abrahamnsen's Left Alone the concept "the sound of one hand clapping" is uniquely realized.   Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand was written so Paul Wittgenstein who lost his right hand in war.    Perhaps it carries the memory of a lost limb, as often happens to amputees. Abrahamsen's piece feels, however, like an exploration of something entirely imagined. Left Alone moves through a series of six vistas, dark rumblings on the lower keys to bright outbursts in the orchestra. Single notes on percussion blocks tempt the piano forth. At first the piano sounds tentative, as if exploring space. A surge of strings from the orchestra, then a long passage of semi silence,. In fact there are several, passages of semi silence, each one different, so you have to pay attention. Eventually the piano finds its voice, stabbing exuberantly at the keys, the whole orchestra  animated in support. Having thus found itself, the piano can return quietude. Single notes are played, repeatedly. A huge arc of sound from the orchestra, a frenzy of sparkling notes : piano, percussion, winds and strings together. The pace intensifies, bubbling along cheerfully.  Not having a right hand mis not funny, but the protagonist triumphs, nonetheess. Alexandre Tharaud was the soloist.  Preceeding Left Alone was Abrahamsen's orchestration of Debussy Childrens Corner. The connections are clear: six vignettes unified by playful imagination.  In theory, this sense of childlike wonder should have animated Mahler's Symphony no 4, but for me, it largely fell flat. Volkov and the CBSO were brilliant in the first part of the programme, playing with vivacious good spirits.  Maybe they'd enjoyed themselves too much.  Volkov's metier is new music, and the CBSO relish adventure. They've done Mahler 4 often enough  that they can probably coast through and usually (not always) still sound good.  There were problems with the brass, and the timpani felt unusually heavy handed, as if they were playing a military march, which is fine in Mahler but not in Mahler 4  Volkov says "only when you play the whole piece through the last movement makes sense, dynamically and musically". We can't put much store in a soundbite like that, but it did have a bearing on this performance. The final movement refers to the brightness of heaven, and happiness so dazzling that even St Ursula, the warrior, bursts out laughing while her murdered acolytes dance. It is by no means a "cheerful" symphony because the child singing is dead. The voice sounds vulnerable, but in Heaven, it cannot be hurt. Unlike the child in Das irdisches Leben it will not be suppressed.  The dead kid is full of wonder because it's experienced a miracle. The sleigh bells in the first movement are there for a purpose. Sleighs were a mode of transport in difficult conditions, pulled along by the physical strength of horses.  Hence the need for tightness of ensemble and vigorous energy.  Mahler's first movements aren't usually overtures summarizing what us to come, but the first stage in a journey.  Mahler's markings Bedächtig. Nicht eilen and In gemächlicher bewungen. Ohne hast don't in themselves mean slowness but more a kind of transition from the "life" of the first movement to the afterlife of the finale.  If the music lingers, it's to suggest a reluctance to leave a happy past. In some ways, Mahler is saying goodbye to his Wunderhorn years and moving on.  There are many ways to interpret this symphony but it does need a structured point of view.     

Guardian

May 22

Franck: Piano Quintet, Debussy: String Quartet CD review – a game of two halves

Takács Quartet, Marc-André Hamelin (piano) (Hyperion)Of all the music César Franck wrote, four works made his name: the Symphonic Variations, the Violin Sonata, the Symphony in D minor and this Piano Quintet. The quintet (1879) shares that same big, romantic sound and emotional intensity of the violin sonata, beautifully brought out here by Marc-André Hamelin and the Takács in a stirring, virtuosic recording - an ideal way to encounter a still unfamiliar work. This is, however, a CD of two uneven parts: there’s no questioning the Takács’s ability to play the Debussy String Quartet wonderfully. Something less corporeal, a little more elusive and vaporous, would have made it even better. Continue reading...






Guardian

May 4

Martha Argerich: Live from Lugano CD review – real sense of occasion for 'friends' compilation

Argerich/Zilberstein/Hubert/Mogilevsky/Kovacevich/Meyer etc (Warner Classics, three CDs)The releases of recordings from the Progetto Martha Argerich, the festival over which the great lady presides each June in the Swiss resort of Lugano, have become one of the most reliable annual fixtures in the CD calendar. The latest compilation is more or less the mixture as before, bringing together musicians from several generations with whom Argerich has worked regularly or whose careers she has closely monitored, and featuring a range of mainstream chamber works as well as historical rarities and arrangements for multiple pianos.Argerich fans are always looking for additions to her personal discography, too, and they get a couple here. She joins Lilya Zilberstein in Debussy’s two-piano arrangement of Schumann’s Six Canonic Studies Op 56, originally written for pedal piano; and with Eduardo Hubert as the other soloist and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana under Alexander Vedernikov, she takes on Porteña (Latitude 34° 36° 30°), for two pianos and orchestra, a rather gruesome, sub-Piazzolla portrait of Buenos Aires by film-score composer Luis Bacalov. Otherwise, she partners Alexander Mogilevsky in Schubert’s Variations in A flat, D813, the violinist Géza Hosszu-Legocky in an arrangement of Bartok’s Romanian Dances, and joins Stephen Kovacevich for a rather stormy, fierce account of Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir, a work they recorded together in the 1970s. 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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