Classical CD Reviews

DEBUSSY: Pour le Piano; Estampes; L’isle joyeuse; SZYMANOWSKI: Prelude and Fugue; Sonata in C Minor – Rafal Blechacz, p. – DGG

An admirer of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Blechacz brings an equally hard patina to the Debussy surface.

Published on December 3, 2012

DEBUSSY: Pour le Piano; Estampes; L’isle joyeuse; SZYMANOWSKI: Prelude and Fugue; Sonata in C Minor – Rafal Blechacz, p. – DGG

DEBUSSY: Pour le Piano; Estampes; L’isle joyeuse; SZYMANOWSKI: Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor; Sonata in C Minor, Op. 8 – Rafal Blechacz, piano – DGG 00289 477 9548, 62:22 ****:

Rafal Blechacz continues to build his DGG legacy with this recital (rec. January 2011) of Claude Debussy and his Polish contemporary Karol Szymanowski, a selection unusual and audacious at once. An admirer of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Blechacz brings an equally hard patina to the Debussy surface, though Blechacz, like his other idols, Gieseking and Cortot, reveals a sensitivity to the harmonic and coloristic dynamics in this often elusive composer, particularly in a work with neo-Classic lines, the 1901 suite Pour le Piano. Blechacz makes vocally clear sense of the Sarabande movement; and though few can equal the electric breadth of the Benno Moiseiwitsch rendition of the Toccata, Blechacz applies a swift and seamless brush to the Herculean onrush of notes.  As for the “Javanese” gongs and pans of the Prelude, they intermingle in coiled harmonies that adumbrate the first of the postage-stamp adventures (“Pagodes”) of the 1903 Estampes that follow.

Blechacz invokes as much water in the opening Pagodes as he does oriental ether. The angular scales and exotic harmonies blend in swiftly protean sound clusters, while a fine-tuned trill hovers over the bass progressions. At once harp and percussion instrument, the keyboard glides and glistens in aerial serenity, and we feel a strange kinship to Puccini’s Turandot. Blechacz then transitions to Spain’s Granada; yet, it too, reveals a Moorish element that yearns longingly toward Asia. Blechacz takes a quick tempo for the habanera, yet it still manages to hover in a rarified erotic space. Mature keyboard virtuosity and childlike innocence combine in the Jardins sous la pluie, in which an often percussive toccata sings two songs (“Sleep, child, sleep” and “We’ll no more venture into the woods”) from French infancy in sparkled colors. Finally, the A Minor piece de bravura in the 1904 L’isle joyeuse, a composition that combines “force and grace.”  Blechacz exacts a number of fascinating attacks on the keyboard that take the form of diatonic and whole-tone scales, with a Lydian sensibility’s serving as intermediary. Again, Blechacz adapts a quick tempo for this Lisztian etude, and the sheer passionate vehemence of his realization of Cythera sweeps Aphrodite ashore and us away.

The music of Karol Szymanowski clearly has Debussy integrated into his idiosyncratic harmony, though the form of the Prelude and Fugue proffers homage to Bach. The angular Prelude soon yields to the four-voice Fugue, a rather strict and somber progression in martial periods that occasionally allow a passing ornament. The thickness of the austere texture might nod equally to Cesar Franck. Chopin and Beethoven seem to influence the passionate five-section Sonata in C Minor, in which the momentum of the Pole’s scherzi open the work and Beethoven’s Op. 111 affects its contrapuntal texture. Can it be coincidental that Chopin’s early Op. 4 Sonata is in C Minor? The aggression in the first movement’s development section rings angrily with aspects of stentorian Brahms cross-fertilized by Mussorgsky.

The Adagio at first seems a variant on Chopin’s famous “tristesse” Etude in E Major or the “Raindrop” Prelude. The torrid middle section combines stretto elements we know from Chopin and Schumann. The Tempo di Minuetto wants Blechacz to imitate a jeweled music-box in the manner of Variation 22 from the Brahms Handel Variations, Op. 24. The music soon develops its own character more darkly before returning to the rarified strumming, da capo. The Finale leads directly to the Fuga a 3 voci, and here Szymanowski sounds close to late Liszt, Mussorgsky’s “Bydlo,” and the darker Debussy Preludes. Intense and chromatic, the counterpoint transcends the merely academic and becomes emotionally potent. We must agree with Blechacz that the “interesting harmony and wonderful modulations” compel us, if not to love the work, to admire its musical means.

—Gary Lemco

 




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