Sunday, November 24, 2013

In review--Impressions of the Night (Chopin and Debussy)

Javier Perianes 
Les Sons et les Parfums 
Debussy meets Chopin 
Harmonia Mundi 

Chopin and Debussy were both known for composing diffused music for the piano, however, while Debussy also composed for ballet, opera, and chamber ensembles, Chopin strictly composed for piano.  Oddly, when I brought up Chopin’s music once to a colleague, he made a grave error in describing Chopin’s music as “small,” simply because Chopin composed for a single instrument.  Any pianist that has performed Chopin’s keyboard work would not use the word “small” to describe it. 

Even listening to Chopin’s mazurkas and nocturnes, provide fascinating contours and development of musical themes, despite the lack of a symphonic or orchestral association.  And even though Chopin did not shout virtuosity like Liszt, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev or provide mental gymnastics like Bach, Chopin’s seemingly quiet and subtle compositions, provide a pianist challenges nonetheless.   I even imagine that a less talented pianist could come off easily as over dramatic or underplay the dynamic passages.

Pianists such as Angela Hewitt and Spanish pianist Javier Perianes possess the right sensitivity to bring out the fluidity and clarity of Chopin and the French Impressionist composers’ work.  On Debussy meets Chopin, Perianes tunes into this softer musical terrain, never over or under playing.  This is a musician who can go from playing an album of Beethoven sonatas to deftly interpreting not just Chopin alone, but Chopin and Debussy, who have musical connections in common, but are still two distinct composers.  Perianes explores the connection by matching Chopin pieces to corresponding Debussy pieces, usually in the same key and with similar themes such as “night” with Chopin’s Nocturne no 15 and Debussy’s Clair de Lune (two famous pieces of music that draw upon the night for inspiration).

Since I enjoy the works of Chopin, Debussy as well as, Ravel (not featured on this recording), I find this recording relaxing and enchanting.  The liner notes and DVD of performances of a piece by each of the two composers, enriches the listening experience.  And it’s not all quiet or subtle, since passages from Chopin’s Ballad, opus 52, erupt from my laptop before dropping back down to pianissimo. And the closing piece by Debussy, L’Isle joyeuse, which he composed for his second wife, ends the program with a flourish. While some classical music fans would turn to a more showy composer when describing soulful music, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the soulfulness found in Chopin and Debussy’s piano compositions.  Listened to the right way, these composers could take listeners on a magical, mystical tour.  And on Perianes' recording, these composers receive the royal treatment.

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