|Founder: Len Mullenger|
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes Book 1
Danseuses de Delphes
Le vent dans la plaine
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir
Les collines d’Anacapri
Des pas sur la neige
Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest
La fille aux cheveux de lin
La sérénade interrompué
La cathédrale engloutie
La danse de Puck
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Une barque sur l’océan
Alborada del gracioso
La vallée des cloches
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Recorded at St.Silas’ Presbytery, Chalk Farm, London
GMN.COM GMNC0106 [64:39]
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Peter Donohoe is a pianist of tremendous versatility, with a dauntingly wide repertoire. He also possesses a keen sense of style, and a lively, enquiring approach to the music he performs, as shown in the interesting short essay he has contributed to the booklet with this CD. There is a clarity and a precision about his playing of Debussy which may not be to everyone’s taste. Some tend to feel that his music should be surrounded by a constant haze, brought about by (in)judicious use of the sustaining pedal – covers a multitude of sins, of course, but in reality does no justice to Debussy, whose music is conceived with a poetic mind plus a razor-sharp ear. Donohoe here makes me listen anew to this music, and amazes me with the subtlety and variety of its textures. Once or twice, for example in Voiles, I felt the need for a more ‘blurred’ legato, but on the whole, his approach is hugely successful.
One of the composers this pianist has been strongly associated with is Messiaen, and there are several places where the link between that composer and Debussy comes over more strikingly than ever before. The colossal discordant triads of Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the west wind saw) are a case in point – those clanging dissonances could have come straight out of Turangalîla or Et expecto. I confess I did feel a wave of sympathy for the piano here!
At all times, Donohoe has a wonderful awareness of texture, and this, plus the disciplined flexibility of his playing means that these pieces come alive in a thrilling way - the characterisation of the music is superb. After the violence of Le vent d’ouest, he gives us a Fille aux cheveux de lin (Girl with the flaxen hair) of totally charming insouciance, without a hint of sentimentality. Perhaps the greatest of all these preludes Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the snow) is as hypnotically devastating as ever, again played with restraint and poise.
Donohoe, in his booklet note, is at pains to remind us of the dangers of casually linking the two composers featured on this disc. Yet there are striking parallels, none more so than that between Debussy’s La serenade interrompué (The interrupted serenade) and Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso (Morning song of the clown). Both are outwardly humorous, whimsical pieces, which become clouded with sinister, gloomy overtones as they progress. Each receives a brilliant performance here.
Debussy’s Préludes are firmly accepted as among the major milestones in the development of the literature of the piano. Ravel’s wonderful Miroirs are not perhaps as celebrated, but deserve to be. I was most struck by the imagery of Une barque sur l’océan (A boat on the ocean), where everything from the fluttering sails to the threatening roll of the sea, is described in incredible graphic detail. The gentler imagery of Oiseaux tristes (Sad birds) and La vallée des cloches (The valley of bells) is portrayed with equal success by Donohoe.
Many listeners will find it hard to be lured away from the beauties of Gieseking’s classic performances of the Préludes on EMI, or Thibaudet’s wonderfully idiomatic Miroirs for Decca. All I can say is that, if you love this music, or wish to get to know it better, Donohoe’s imagination and musical integrity will not let you down.
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