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Claude Debussy: Piano music, Vol. 3

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Roy Howat continues his survey of the piano music of Claude Debussy, eventually to occupy four CDs. The first book of Preludes is the main offering here, and Howat's performances allow us to see these pieces in a new light as evidenced by the reviews quoted here. But, most excitingly, this volume contains a world premiere recording of a work discovered in Paris in late 2001!

Other volumes in this series:
Vol 1 - TP094 Images and Etudes
Vol 2 - TP123 Preludes Book 2 and 2nd Suite Bergamasque
Vol 4 - TP165 The Youthful Debussy: Arabesques and Children's Corner, and world premiere recording of Interméde

Claude Debussy:Morceau de concours
Préludes Book 1
"Les soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du
charbon" (1917 - première recording)
The little nigar
Hommage à Haydn
Pour le piano
La plus que lente


Is there a right way of playing a composer's music? Roy Howat has a magnificent track record as a French music scholar, and as a stylist in its interpretation (Chabrier as well as Debussy). Pieces of Debussy are still being discovered, not least by Howat himself, and this disc has a musicological highlight, a first recording of Debussy's tribute to his coalman, whose generosity kept him warm in the winter of 1916-7. Howat's playing is intentionally faithful, admirably clear and intellectually transparent in his interpretations.

But if we listen to a great pianist play Debussy - say Michelangeli, Richter, or Gieseking - we equally hear the music work not only as impressionism but also pianism. Maybe fireworks, maybe poetry. When, in that famous phrase, we hear that the piano no longer has hammers it is not because of some careful stylistic respect, but because the master pianist is a magician of the sound-world. We are exalted in ways that Howat, sadly, does not come near. Perhaps, as a performer, Debussy himself could not achieve this, but his interpreters must strive to.
Ying Chang
Musical Pointers

If you are seriously interested in Debussy and his piano music, get these CDs (there are four of them) from Tall Poppies and make up your own mind about these opposed responses and tell Musical Pointers? 

The issue raised by their contrast is also tackled in an absorbing novel about the pianist's life, frustrations and triumph, Conrad Williams' The Concert Pianist, in a section in which the two attitudes are set beside each other: - - the modernist view that if you do what the music says and play with stylistic accuracy the music will speak for itself; and the contrary view that what makes a performance work is an insight into something not manifest in the score - - (Conrad WilliamsThe Concert Pianist p 145) 
PGW Musical Pointers


The penultimate instalment in Roy Howat's traversal of Debussy's complete piano works reinforces the strong impressions made by his previous recordings, especially of the Etudes (TP094) and the Préludes Book 2 (TP123). In many ways he is an ideal Debussy interpreter, for he has immersed himself in the style both as a performer and as a scholar. His playing, like his writing, is clear, direct, sensitive to nuance, and often touched with humour. His interpretations are born from within the score, never imposed from the outside. He has the gift to say things simply and quietly--which is not an absence of interpretation but rather the most subtle and highest form of it. His control of low-end dynamics is particularly impressive: for once we hear the four-voiced texture at bars 63-66 in 'La danse de Puck', just the right amount of clarity at the end of 'La cathédrale engloutie', and some ethereal left-hand staccatos in the Toccata from Pour le piano. His pedaling always reflects a keen ear for texture as well as attention to the durations of Debussy's bass notes. The interpretation of Estampes is exemplary in all these ways, one of the finest accounts I know, with the last two pages of 'Pagodes' utterly magical in effect.

Listeners will be surprised by some of Howat's tempos in the Préludes, for we have become accustomed to slower ones from Michelangeli, Jacobs, Cassard, and Thibaudet, to name a few. Certainly there is little sense of langueur in Howat's accounts of 'Danseuses de Delphes', 'Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir', and 'La fille aux cheveux de lin'. But Debussy prescribed metronome indications for these pieces, and in each one Howat's tempo proves to be right on the mark. The fact that Debussy abandoned the use of metronome markings in his later works does not mean that he necessarily decided they were wrong in these instances. In any case, Howat's accounts act as welcome correctives. In 'La cathédrale engloutie' and 'Minstrels', which lack metronome indications, Howat's tempos seem perfect--the former slightly faster than usual, the latter slightly slower.

Howat's cultivated wit is especially in evidence in the shorter pieces that round out the disc. And a delightful bonus is the first recording of 'Les soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du charbon', a recently discovered work composed in 1917 that contains allusions to several earlier pieces. Debussy dedicated it to his (apparently musical) coal merchant, who helped him get through a hard wartime winter!

Charles Timbrell
International Record Review 2003

Préludes Book I: Cassard (Adda) 581223 (two discs)
Jacobs (Nonesuch) 7559 79474-2 (two discs)
Michelangeli (DG) 449438 (two discs)
Thibaudet (London) 452 022-2 (two discs)

'It may be late in the day, but Howat's Debussy puts all the others in perspective: this, I am convinced, is how Debussy intended his pieces to sound.'

- Andrew Ford in 24 Hours, August 1997

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 TP (1-901)



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