Debussy

Music

Stephen Hough, Piano, at Carnegie Hall, January 30, 2018: Debussy, Schumann, and Beethoven

Stephen Hough remains one of the most engaging personalities in the world of virtuoso pianists. He makes his wide range of interests—literary, visual, and religious—known to the world at large with grace and modesty, out of a genuine desire to contribute things that others with find enjoyable or helpful. He is even able to compose pieces, mostly of a light nature, which he sometimes interjects into his concert programs. Early in his career he built a reputation with his impressive technique, as he built a list of outstanding recordings of forgotten concerti and solo pieces which were too difficult for others to learn for the rare occasions on which they would be called for in concert. In recent years he has turned more to established classics in his concert programs, approaching them with a consistent style founded on attractive tone and a vision of the coherence of the works he plays.
Music

A Weekend with Pierre Boulez…and Debussy, Duckworth, Beethoven, and Paavali Jumppanen, Pianist

When I approach a review, I usually try to objectify it in some way, especially if it's about familiar music, not only in recognition of the the fact that I'm writing for a public readership, but also in recognition of the discrete nature of a work of art as an entity created by an individual working under a specific set of historical circumstances, even if it dates from two months ago. Boulez's Répons is very much rooted in such a situation in 1981, with its connection to the history of electronic music—then still fairly young—and the foundation of IRCAM, an event which gave electronic music formal institutional support in Europe. However, my personal response to hearing it at the Park Avenue Armory was especially strong, and in this review I will stay with that.
Music

Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Emanuel Ax, piano, in Sibelius, Mozart, de Falla, and Debussy

If you ever wonder how Sibelius' music seems to come in two styles, one bardic, noble, warmly patriotic and slightly thumpy; the other austere, cerebral, craggy and interplanetary, think Karelia. This is the eastern portion of Finland near the White Sea, where ancient forms of native song and poetry still obtained at the turn of the last century. As Vaughan Williams scoured England for folksong and Bartók transcribed them in Hungary, a similar romantic enthusiasm for Finnish roots swept young Finns of the day. Karelianism, it was called, and Sibelius' suite derives from the music he wrote for the Karelia Pageant of 1893, which represented something of a culmination of the movement. The opening "Intermezzo", otherwise a contradiction in terms, was in fact used to separate two tableaux within the festivities.
Early Music, etc.

Ian Hobson, piano: Preludes – Etudes – Variations at Merkin Concert Hall, February 22, 2016: Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff

Mr. Hobson's program, consisting of a very early work by Chopin, which he wrote as a conservatory student at age 17 and performed soon after his graduation two years later, the fifty-year-old Debussy's peak as a writer for the piano, and Rachmaninoff's final work written in Russia: in 1917, when he was forty-four, and his world was crumbling around him, as the Revolution continued its course and he realized that he would have to leave his native country, where he had friends, money, and property, and face an uncertain future as an exile, most likely supporting his family with concert tours in the United States, which he hated. All these works have their harmonic, coloristic, and emotional extremities, at points going as far as to reflect the Paganinian tradition of the demented, or diabolical virtuoso. Hobson responded to this with full sympathy in all, as well as prodigious energy.
Music

Stephen Porter plays Debussy’s Preludes, Books I and II at SubCulture, New York

One can't say that performances of both books of Debussy's Preludes are absolutely unheard of, but they are sufficiently uncommon for Stephen Porter to deserve our admiration for his courage and enlightenment in offering them in the form he did. Not only did he perform both books in their entirety from memory, he prefaced each with a piece from Debussy's earlier Images, in order to prepare the audience, and included engaging discussions of the composer and the works, not only providing us with background, but preparing us to listen, to enter Debussy's particular world of sounds.
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