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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Petite suite (1889) [12:11]
Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire (1891) [5:32]
Six épigraphes antiques (1914) [14:05]
Symphonie in B minor (1880) [9:25]
La Mer (1905) [23:34]
Piano 4 Hands: (Joseph Tong; Waka Hasegawa (piano duet))
rec. The Warehouse, London, 14-15 February 2006
QUARTZ MUSIC QTZ2048 [64:50]


‘Piano 4 Hands’ is the name Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa have for their now well established piano duo. The musical synergy which has given them national recognition in the U.K. as well as further afield is abundantly in evidence on this new Debussy recital.

Opening with the relatively relaxed urbanity of the early Petite suite, the duo outline the stylistic influences in the work’s four movements, easing us into the programme with an unmannered approach and an attractive sound. Rhythmic security gives way to playful rubato where required by the music, in the dancing lines of the final Ballet for instance, and expressive lyricism is not allowed to break the forward momentum of the Menuet.

The Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire was apparently originally intended for a brass and reed band, which would have made an interesting addition to the Debussy catalogue. It would be hard to imagine it in this setting through some of the more elaborate passages in the piano duet version, but while the idiom remains stubbornly French there are plenty of open fifths and straightforward dance passages which give the piece something of a rustic feel.

The Six épigraphes antiques have their origins in some of Debussy’s ‘Chansons de Bilitis’ of 1899, and so there is a pull between the composer’s earlier style and the exoticism of other piano works such as the ‘Images’ which were completed in 1912. Taking one of my favourites, Pour la danseuse aux crotales, this duo prove themselves well up to the quicksilver contrasts and turns of mood with which Debussy teases his audience. The atmosphere of Pour l’Égyptienne is well handled, and shows an impeccable unity of dynamics in the briefly rising crescendi. The fleeting climax of Pour remercier la pluie au matin has all the impact one could desire, and leaves one panting for more.

The Symphonie en si mineur, originally conceived as an orchestral work, was arranged for four-handed piano by the 18 year-old Debussy but never orchestrated. It contains plenty of youthful oddities and the stylistic fingerprints of composers such as Brahms and Franck, and the idiom is generally late-romantic. The work has plenty of orchestral feel to it, which is effectively brought over by Tong and Hasegawa, although the whole thing ends up sounding somewhat unrelenting by the end. I ended up wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to have had something like the Ravel transcriptions of the ‘Nocturnes’ – there would have been room enough on the disc to have had both. Either way, the large-scale ending makes for a suitable curtain-raiser to La mer.

André Caplet’s version of La mer for two pianos appeared in 1909 only after Debussy’s own conducting convinced the critics of the work’s true magic a year earlier. This duet version was created prior to the better known orchestral score, being completed in March 1905. While I have a great affection for the full sound of a good piano duet, there is a great deal to be said for the wider acoustic spread and dynamic power of two concert grands, especially in a work in which sonic depth and colour play such an extensive role. Nevertheless, the duet version proves involving and effective enough, and there is more of the sea than the salon in Tong and Hasegawa’s playing, which is the way things should be.

This is a nicely presented and beautifully performed CD, and easily recommendable to anyone interested in this repertoire in these versions. My one, quite mild criticism of the recording is that the piano is a touch distant, taking the last ounce of impact away from what would otherwise be a more solid bass, and very slightly clouding the inner detail in the densest of passages. Being a Libran I also have to see the positive side, and have to add that I appreciate the effect this kind of recording has on the size of your own listening room: close your eyes and you can easily be transported into a spacious Paris salon. ‘Piano 4 Hands’ prove admirable Debussy interpreters, and I shall be keeping an eye out for any other recordings they offer in the future.

Dominy Clements                     



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