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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Piano Trio in G L3 (1879-80) [21:57]
Violin Sonata in G minor L140 (1916-1917) [14:14]
Cello Sonata in D minor L135 (1915) [11:52]
Intermezzo L27 (1882) [5:28]
Scherzo L26 (1882) [5:24]
Minstrels (1909-10) [2:23]
La fille aux cheveux de lin (1909-10) [2:36]
Premiere Arabesque L66 (1907) [4:57]
Romance L79 No. 1 (1911) [2:09]
Reverie L68 (1912) [4:38]
Trio Stradivari (Federico Guglielmo (violin), Luigi Puxeddu (cello), Jolanda Violante (piano))
rec. 5-7 February 2012?, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94766 [75:48]

Claude Debussy’s exciting Piano Trio in G sparks thoughts of rejuvenation and spring-like scenes of trickling brooks, wild flowers and dew-sprent grass. Under the sponsorship of Madame von Meck (who also sponsored Tchaikovsky), Debussy composed this promising and jovial piece during the summer of 1880. Being only 17, Debussy’s voice is yet to emerge with confidence and elements of Franck, Schumann and Brahms are apparent in its texture, structure and intention. Nevertheless, aspects are charming and witty, and the Finale is bold and assertive. The Trio Stradivari play with warmth and tenderness, rendering this piece with a luminous exchange of emotions. This lilting approach can be heard through the use of pizzicato during the second movement (scherzo-intermezzo).
 
Debussy believed that it was the composer’s duty ‘to find the symphonic formula which fits our time, one which progress, daring and modern victory demand’, wryly adding that ‘the century of airplanes has a right to its own music.’ With its hints of Couperin, Debussy’s Violin Sonata - written in the latter stages of his life - unfolds a French baroque essence in a distinctively fresh and modern way. This piece is performed here with acute sensitivity and unveils its expansive atmosphere, glimmers of contrast and agility. Distressed by the stalemate and slaughter of war, and ceaselessly suffering from illness and discomfort, Debussy began writing this Sonata, beginning it in 1916 and not finishing it until the following year. When premiering this work, Debussy confessed, with exasperation: ‘I only wrote this sonata to be rid of the thing, spurred on by my dear publisher.’ Perhaps more insightfully, he added that ‘This sonata will be interesting from a documentary point of view as an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war’. However, the impish mood in the Intermède and the final build-up in the Finale demonstrate a determination to remain vital and not let weakness or futility prevail. It serves as testimony to Debussy’s fighting spirit, yet beauty and pathos permeate even the most terse passages. The Trio Stradivari perform with understanding and intelligence. An even more punchy and enlivened recording of this emotionally fraught piece can be found in that by Josef Suk and Jan Panenka (Supraphon SU 3547-2 101).
 
Debussy wrote his Cello Sonata in 1915. Its original title was ‘Pierrot fait fou avec la lune’, possibly inspired by the Albert Giraud poem that was the basis for Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, written three years earlier. Interestingly, the late 19th and early 20th century saw a renewed interested in Pierrot and other figures from the commedia dell’arte. Perhaps best described as ‘A moonbeam locked up / In a beautiful bottle of Bohemia’ (Giraud, Bohemian Crystal), this piece sports a myriad interrelating elements: high and lyrical fragments suggestive of male falsetto, shifts in tempi, exaggerated sections of rubato, juxtaposition of unrelated tonalities and a refusal to conform to metric regularity, all within a classical form. Luigi Puxeddu’s performance is colourful and evocative.
 
The remaining pieces bear out Debussy’s assertion that one should ‘search for a discipline within freedom’ and not let oneself be governed by formulae drawn from ‘decadent philosophies’ for they are ‘for the feeble-minded’. These pieces, particularly Minstrels and Première Arabesque with their jazzy rhythms and fluid arpeggios are performed with vigour and clarity by these consummate players. Coinciding seamlessly, the three musicians interrelate with delicacy, contrast and continuity. Romantic eagerness reverberates from Puxeddu in the Intermezzo L27. He is captivatingly and cleverly accompanied by Jolanda Violante. The Scherzo L26 is a light-hearted and frivolous jaunt.
 
This is a CD which delights in the eclectic variety of Debussy’s musical personality. It offers insight into his influences and sense of humour. This recording challenges the singular notion of Debussy as a purely impressionist composer. In so doing the Trio Stradivari, offer a fuller picture of Debussy’s music; the emotions he felt and compositional techniques he used to express his thoughts and ideas. These accomplished musicians deliver familiar pieces such as La fille aux cheveux de lin and Première Arabesque with freshness and spontaneity. Federico Guglielmo stands out among these accomplished artists as an innovative and enchantingly poetic interpreter.

Lucy Jeffery