Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Debussy: Preludes for Piano, Disc 1

It's cheating to use the word impressionist when describing Debussy's music, and yet it's a simple fact that Debussy's piano compositions sound just as impressionistic as his orchestral compositions. Today's Preludes are stunning and vivid--they have splashes of wild color, strange chords, strange melodies and weirdly unorthodox techniques.

This guy is a true rule-breaker, no matter what instrument he works with.
Krystian Zimerman, piano

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Claude Debussy: Préludes

Deutsche Grammophon, 1994 [2 CDs]

Until today, I had only experienced Debussy's La Mer and Images, both of which are orchestral works which are at times is so vivid that you can literally almost see the music (the first movement of La Mer is an excellent example of this).

The Preludes for piano are equally vivid, but I'd argue that at times Debussy's special effects and musical gadgets interfere with the music itself. I'll cite some examples in the listener notes.

One final word: don't buy this 2-CD recording expecting to hear Schumann- or Chopin-style piano music. Be ready for something wildly different.

Listener Notes for Debussy's Preludes (Disc 1):
1) Prelude 1, Danseuses de Delphes: At the 1:44 and 1:48 marks, you'll hear dissonant chords that sound almost like mistakes (they're not). Man, this ain't Chopin. This music is much more challenging. Also, notice in this track how pianist Krystian Zimerman breathes so loudly that you can clearly hear it over the music. He's no doubt lost himself in his passion for the music.

2) Prelude 2, Voiles: One word. Creeeeeeepy.

3) Prelude 3, Le vent dans la plaine, is a particularly impressionist(ic?) sounding work.

4) Prelude 5, Les collines d'Anacapri: Here's an excellent example of Debussy using musical gadgets and special effects to excess. All of the excited zings!, swoops! and pings! sound interesting, but they aren't music.

5) Likewise, Prelude 7, Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest, is another effect-laden piece that quite frankly doesn't sound musical at all. It's full of banging chords and too much use of both extreme ends of the keyboard. Rumble-rumble, ping! ping!

6) But then Prelude 8, La fille aux cheveux de lin, shows how Debussy, when he doesn't try to overstuff his compositions with special effects, can write stunningly beautiful music.

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