The French Album = FAURE: Pavane, Op. 50; DEBUSSY: Les Collines D’Anacapri; La terasse des audiences du clair de lune; Clair de lune; Ce qu’a a vu le vent D’Ouest; Voiles; Le Cathedral engloutie; Feux d’artifice; Feuilles mortes; La Puerta del Vino; La soiree dans Grenade; RAMEAU: Les Tricolets; Munuets 1&2; L’Egyptienne; CHABRIER: Habanera; RAVEL: Alborada del gracioso; Pavane pour une infant defunte – Jorge Federico Osorio, piano – Cedille CDR 90000 197, 75:10 (8/14/20) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Lovingly recorded 14-15 January 2020 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, under the production supervision of James Ginsburg, Jorge Federico Osorio and his Steinway pay homage to the pianist’s affection for the French keyboard tradition.
Osorio opens with the original piano version Gabriel Faure’s 1887 Pavane in F-sharp Minor, Op. 50. An unaffected, uncluttered, lyric sentiment, the melody proceeds along the direct expressivity established by Faure’s teacher, Saint-Saens. Rhythmic, in the style of a Spanish dance, this music forms a close kinship with another Pavane, that of Maurice Ravel. The harmonization for the keyboard alerts our sense of color without sacrificing any of the music’s innate vocalism.
In direct contrast by juxtaposition, we hear the first of eight piano preludes (1910-1914) created by Claude Debussy, ever the experimenter in keyboard sonority, whose colorful titles come as “post-scripts” to the sounds already proffered us by the performer. Generally, Debussy’s preludes conform neither to traditional harmony nor to formal procedure, having taken his cue from the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, which exposed him to the gamelan orchestra from Java. Debussy, in 1906, wrote: “Do you remember the Javanese music, able to express every shade of meaning, even unmentionable shades. . .which make our tonic and dominant seem like ghosts, for use by naughty little children?” Debussy lent an ear to Medieval music, Spanish music, the popular music-hall, and plainchant. He relies on pentatonic and whole-tone scales, the latter of which deny any sense of cadential closure. And his chosen “titles” serve merely as suggestions, taken from Mallarme’s principle of dreaming of an identity, since to name an object means to rob it of its multiple possibilities.
Osorio sets the Debussy group with Les collines d’Anacapri in B Major, a piece in close sympathy with Franz Liszt and his Les cloches de Geneve, the Bells of Geneva. Neapolitan harmonies and an alert sense of piano resonance defines this wonderfully buoyant miniature. La terrace des audiences au clair de lune derives from Book II (1912), an Eastern, exotically atmospheric often sensually delicate picture possibly motivated by the coronation of King George V as Emperor of India. Clair de Lune (1890) remains among the most universal of musical moments, conceived as part of the Suite bergamasque after the poet Paul Verlaine. Every piano collector has his own favorite rendition, as far back as Walter Gieseking, George Copeland, and Robert Casadesus. Ce qu’a a vu le vent d’Ouest from Book I presents another jolt by juxtaposition: after the lulling grace of Moonlight, Debussy’s West Wind proffers a blizzard of Lisztian, virtuoso keyboard sound, a malevolent force of Nature, perhaps a model for Ravel’s Scarbo. The rising scale patterns may have a touch of Mussorgsky.
From the blatantly volcanic to the suggestive, we move to Voiles, or Sails, which exploits both whole tone and pentatonic scales to create an amorphous, other-worldly continuum. Shimmering B-flats abound in this exotic exercise, whose title may be translated “Veils.” Beardsley’s Salome or the American dancer Loie Fuller? You decide. La Cathedrale engloutie takes it literary cue from Y’s in Brittany, the place of Tristan und Iseult. The cathedral allegedly sank due to its practitioners’ heresy, but the structure rises from beneath the waves in a stunning triumph of parallel fifths, tone clusters, and octaves, cooperating, in a gradual fortissimo, as the bells of the cathedral and its organ’s playing for faithful worshippers. Eventually, the waves swallow up the structure as it recedes into our collective unconscious.
The prelude Feux d’artifice or Fireworks seems to celebrate Bastille Day on the verge of the outbreak of WW I. A wonderful touch-piece, the work serves as a toccata in the spirit of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Again, rich and kaleidoscopic color juxtaposes against the barren, falling appoggiatura of Feuilles mortes, Dead Leaves. This is T.S. Eliot in music, with oblique allusions to Verlaine’s “long sobs of the violins of autumn. . .which wound my heart.” The broken chordal pattern well appealed to Bartok, who chose Debussy as his mentor when in Paris.
Osorio plays three selected Rameau pieces from the c. 1726 Suite in G, beginning with the delicate rondeau “Les Tricolets.” The two Menuets have a meditative character, even the deliberate pace of a refined musical box. The last of the three works, “L’Egyptienne,” revels in chromatic colors and repeated notes, all taken in a brisk, elastic tempo. Playful and richly embroidered, the piece tests Osorio’s delicate virtuosity.
I always find Emmaneul Chabrier’s music refreshing and delightfully inventive; at his best, he can write a captivating melody. His trip to Spain begat his immortal Espana Rhapsody and the piece we hear from Osorio, the 1885 Habanera, a paean to Cuba. In 2/4, the piece treads a slow but sultry evocation of a lover’s tryst, maybe with Lombard and Raft, three generations of film-goers ago. The Iberian sensibility extends into Debussy’s La Puerta del Vino, an evocation of the Moorish Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain. Pedal points on A-flat and D-flat set the allure of the habanera rhythm, which intensifies to the point of a descent of a minor third into B-flat. More sensuous motifs arise in La soiree dans Granade, rich with strummed guitars and invested by Arabic scale patterns. Like the picture of the Wine Gate prior, this habanera resonates with the timeless erotics of flamenco.
In 1905, Ravel paid tribute to his Basque origins in the course of his set of Miroirs, which includes memories of Spain via the composer’s Paris apartment. The Alborado del gracioso provides “morning music” in the context of an intensely fingered etude, whose quick repeated notes challenge even the great pianists, like Lipatti. A combination of Spanish song, parody, and scintillating runs, the work appeals to the kaleidoscope – via a Phrygian mode of D minor and major – of human emotions, especially after a night of romantic tryst, the passions still in a swirl. Osorio closes with Ravel’s direct homage to his teacher Faure, in the 1899 Pavane for a Long-gone Princess. A simple, arresting melody over broken chords sets the refined tone of the songful dirge. Osorio imbues the work, as he has all through this recital, with a noble, sturdy intensity that relents when delicacy demands his strict attention to good taste.