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Hommage à Debussy
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Images Books I (1905) and II (1908) [16:17 + 14:11]
Estampes (1903) [15:43]
Arabesque No.1 (1888) [4:08]
Debussy-Pastiche (1999) [3:54]
Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
À la manière de…Claude Debussy (1911) [3:14]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
La plainte, au loin, du faune…(1920) [4:09]
Roberto PIANIA (b.1971)
Image d’un faune (2012) [5:11]
Carlo Grante (piano)
rec. February 2012, Glanzing Studio, Vienna
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1267 [67:02]

This sumptuously recorded recital was given in Glanzing Studio, Vienna in February 2012. Added lustre comes from the use of a the use of a 1924 Bösendorfer belonging to Eva and Paul Badura-Skoda who receive special thanks ‘for making this recording possible’. If an instrument of this type is hardly one that comes to mind as authentically part of the Debussy bloodstream, it makes a richly evocative sound and one that responds well to the particular demands of Carlo Grante’s recital.
Those demands centre on Debussy’s Images and Estampes. Grante plays with richly engaged intelligence and a variegated tonal response. Sonorous and well balanced, Reflets dans l’eau augurs well. It is a balanced and pedal-heavy experience, in the lineage of Gieseking rather than George Copeland or, pertinently here, Daniel Ericourt whose 1962 recording, transferred by Ivory Classics [73006] offers less in the way of effect or more kinetic, indeed icier water painting. Copeland was much admired by Debussy, and some of his recordings of the composer’s music can be found on Pearl Gemm 0121. Grante is heavier in tone and touch than both Copeland and Ericourt, who as a boy of 15 had turned the pages for the composer at one of Debussy’s last concerts.
Thus Grante’s balanced and cogent expression in Cloches è travers les feuilles is an aesthetic and tonal choice that governs his playing of the composer’s music as a whole. Ericourt’s aesthetic here is toward a more bracing, crystalline brilliance, without much pedal or impressionistic haze: anti-Gieseking, if you will. In truth these strands of Debussy interpretation have been present from the start. So whilst Grante beautifully projects the sombre intricacies of Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut it’s Ericourt who is the more timbrally striking in his searching for the harmonic complexities of the shifts. Grante will certainly please in Poissons d’or, where his measured control of colour is striking. But do not neglect the rather more brisk, cool and in some ways ungovernable approach of a Debussy disciple such as Ericourt - and indeed Copeland in his way - whose greater insistence and probing brashness may well bring an unexpected gloss on Debussian interpretation. 

There’s a timeless quality to Grante’s Pagodas in Estampes; mellifluous, austere, and forbidding. Ericourt’s voicings are more incursive, less hypnotically abstract and very much faster. Time here is not suspended. Throughout, as in La soirée dans Grenade, Grante’s chording - and that of almost all contemporary pianists - is heavier and deeper than Ericourt’s brighter, treble-orientated sound. This may be a result, in part, of his less satisfactory recording; but it’s also a question of tonal weight, colour, chordal balance and pedal use.
Grante also draws out from this close focus to include other works; the Arabesque No.1 goes well and is considerably faster than Ericourt’s. Then we have a programme-within-a-programme in which Grante plays Casella’s À la manière de…Claude Debussy in a sombrely expectant fashion, as well as Dukas’s evocative tribute La plainte, au loin, du faune…which was written two years after Debussy’s death. Grante himself contributes his Pastiche, a water study with some dissonances, and the recital ends with Roberto Piana’s clever Image d’un faune.
Grante’s strengths as a Debussy interpreter are seconded both by the excellent studio recording and by the documentary booklet, which has been intelligently and lovingly compiled by Grante himself.
Jonathan Woolf