DEBUSSY: Petite Suite; Epigraphes Antiques; En Blanc et Noir; Masques; Nocturne; Elegie; Marche ecossaise; Lindaraja (Vol. 5) – Pascal Roge, piano/ Ami Roge, piano – Onyx 4059, 70:03 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Pascal Roge begins Volume 5 in his cycle of Debussy opera with the brilliant 1903 Masques in A Minor, the composer’s reaction to a series of Eighteenth Century paintings. Roge addresses its shifting harmonies, Lisztian dynamics, and explosive fioritura with confident authority, the repeated notes in the upper register translucently vibrant. The bass tones, too, mark a sense of post-Tristan vertical thinking that looks simultaneously forward well into the Twentieth Century. The ensuing Nocturne (1892), on the other hand, reflects Debussy’s early debts to the Chopin nocturne’s passions and to the salon of Mme. von Meck, who had supported Tchaikovsky. The sad and brief Elegie (1915) marks Debussy’s final solo piece, composed in his fatal illness. Moody and sober, the music combines a sense of plainchant with existential barrenness.
The 1889 Petite Suite, conceived when Debussy was twenty-four, represents his first four-hand piece. Roge collaborates with wife Ami for this and the remainder of the recorded program. The lovely arabesques of En bateau literally float in a calm sea of affection. The cheerfully rippling Cortege leads an ethereal Menuet in striking, slightly “oriental” hues. Happy feet mark the concluding Ballet, a joyful dance movement. The Marche ecossaise (1891) owes its existence to a commission Debussy accepted from a Scottish general who wanted a march celebrating the Ross clan. A swirling opening from the Roges leads to a militant chorale tune, its little turn likely inspired by Mendelssohn’s notions of the Scottish highlands. The harmonic palette, typical of Debussy, becomes imaginative and transformative in ways that exceed its original limits.
Both Epigraphes antiques (1914) and En Blanc et Noir (1915) conclude Debussy’s creative career, the former a reworking of motifs he had planned (1901) as incidental music for poems (of Bilitis) by Pierre Louys, settings of ancient Greece that emphasize a classic symmetry. The six epigraphs prove atmospheric and pictorial, opening with a pentatonic invocation to “Pan, god of the summer wind.” The lyrically somber “For a Tomb without a Name” employs some unusual bass harmonies that might recall the discordant funeral bells in Liszt. Whole tones and chromatic chords infiltrate the middle movements, evocative of the Delphic Dancers of the Preludes. “Pour l’Egyptienne” plays like an improvisation on a motif Saint-Saens might have provided, sinuous and clarion. The last epigraph, “Pour remercier la pluie au matin” combines Debussy’s love of nature with a repressed remorse concerning WW I and the implacability of life. Balance engineer Marijke Roos has done a remarkable job in capturing the resonant tones of the Roges here.
En Blanc et Noir used to serve Robert and Gaby Casadesus as a virtuoso vehicle. Its three sections combine brilliance and technical difficulty. Again, the World War occupies Debussy’s mind, and the harmonies clash, and the rhythms become aggressively militant.
The second movement Lent. Sombre establishes a funereal, elegiac sound whose occasional, dynamic jab reminds us of Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919), one of the ultimate antiwar films. The Scherzando, dedicated to Stravinsky, rather skittishly concludes the suite in high or impish spirits. The Roges bask in the lush sonorities and bristle in the repeated notes.
Lindaraja (1901) never had publication in Debussy’s lifetime, and it was conceived specifically for two pianos. An extended habanera, the six-minute piece exalts the Moorish sensibility in Spain, the gardens of the Alhambra, in sensuous and evocative colors and rhythms that invoke romance, mystery, and adventure. This recording should win it new advocates.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich