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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Reflections on Debussy
Pour l’oeuvre du vêtement du blessé [1:33]
Improvisation I [1:42]
La fille aux cheveux de lin [2:53]
Improvisation II [4:14]
La serenade interompue [2:37]
Improvisation III [2:06]
La Cathédrale engloutie [7:26]
Improvisation IV [2:38]
Le petit négre [1:05]
Improvisation V [2:03]
Clair de lune [5:12]
Improvisation VI [2:51]
Des pas sur la neige [4:55]
Improvisation VII [5:03]
Morceau de concours [0:50]
Improvisation VIII [1:43]
Minstrels [2:36]
Laurens Patzlaff (piano) (all improvisations by the pianist)
rec. Musikhochschule Stuttgart, Germany, 3-4 April 2012
ANIMATO ACD6134 [51:35]

Debussy is one of those composers whose music I absolutely adore. If ever painting by music can be said to have been achieved it must be Debussy’s name that is surely the first that comes to mind as the pre-eminent practitioner of that “art”.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached this disc that has pianist Laurens Patzlaff improvising on a number of Debussy’s compositions. I found that I was asking myself as to whether it could be compared to Jacques Loussier’s jazz improvisations on Bach, Ravel, Satie and others. I suppose it’s a fair comparison but since Loussier doesn’t present them alongside the originals does that make a difference I wondered and does taking the music into the jazz idiom place the exercise in a different arena. I’m still pondering these questions while I listen. What I can say is that Patzlaff has tapped into Debussy’s dreamlike sound world pretty convincingly. His improvisations are certainly in the same vein but I’m still left wondering if this is something that has any value. Creating a jazz impression of a Bach suite is one thing but presenting a classical improvisation alongside the original just seems to be a step too far, as if he’s saying “I can do this too”, though I’m sure that wasn’t the aim. In any case perfection can neither be improved upon nor in Debussy’s case even matched, so what is the point? The booklet notes explain the motivation behind it as follows: “It’s not hard to see the fascination this music holds for skilled improvisers, such as Laurens Patzlaff, whose aim is to maintain balance and continuity in a spontaneous developing musical narrative. To interpolate contemporary improvisations between Debussy’s spontaneous-sounding inspirations can shine a particular spotlight on both the present artist and his source of inspiration. The present improvisations by Laurens Patzlaff are designed to do this by developing themes from the piece that precedes each one, while anticipating those of the piece that’s about to follow. They can thus be seen also as bridging transitions”. Perhaps I’m being over-critical and it may be only because it leads me to make comparisons with the original which may be unfair. I might have a different attitude if the disc were of improvisations alone as I enjoyed them as such just as I do the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninov as well as his Variations on a Theme of Corelli and on Chopin. In those cases one simply accepts the works as such.
Is it different here because Patzlaff is dealing with several short works rather than a single theme? In any event Patzlaff’s playing of the Debussy works is suitably reflective with pauses in all the right places that are so telling in the magically dreamy world of Debussy’s piano music. One of the improvisations I especially enjoyed was the jazzy no.VII bridging Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige and his Morceau de concours. However, while I could easily appreciate the improvisation on the preceding Debussy work in each case, I found it difficult to identify the elements from the forthcoming piece as the booklet explains I should be able to do. If I programme my player to play only the improvisations I believe I would enjoy the disc more. Likewise, if I did the same with the Debussy works as I need no spotlight to be shone on Debussy. He created his own unique radiance; the juxtaposition of the two just doesn’t work for me.
Steve Arloff