Debussys Preludes Masterfully captured with brilliant interpretations. Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s profound affinity for the music of Claude Debussy is revealed again on this 2-CD album.
“They are wonderful labyrinths in sound.”- Pierre Laurent Aimard
The pianist’s profound affinity for the music of Claude Debussy is revealed on this album. It is his celebration of the composer’s 150 birthday in 2012.
Debussy wrote two 24 Préludes in two books, Aimard has recorded them on one CD, including “Claire de lune” as a digital bonus track.
Featured are Aimard’s stellar interpretations of the complete cycle of both books of Préludes:
“… a pianist of illumination and color. He makes everything he plays clear and vibrant.” (Los Angeles Times)
For Aimard, playing all Préludes is an extraordinary experience but also an edifying one. He believes that the music must be left to find itself, while its performers must put themselves in a frame of mind appropriate to this or that piece, soak up its atmosphere and let it pass right through them in order to be able to shape it.
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“Passion” – that is undoubtedly the word that best sums up Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s attitude to Debussy’s Préludes. A clear delight can be read in his features, and it also finds expression in his words as he talks about how ideally realised these pieces are, how indefinable and divorced from all rules and norms. “At the same time they are very demanding and very rich. They are wonderful labyrinths in sound.” The idea of recording them came to him only slowly. He felt no overwhelming need to do so, but a desire to record them gradually imposed itself upon him.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard can never tire of talking about the Préludes. For him, they evoke above all “exceptional memories of pianists of the past who played them in such marvellous ways”. In his eyes, this is also music that is infinitely colourful and infinitely orchestral in character, requiring the interpreter to conjure up all the instruments of the orchestra. Aimard praises the power of Debussy’s sonic imagination. “It is an imagination that stimulates our own. Our fingers exist to recreate this marvellous realm of fancy.”
The Préludes, he believes, also appeal in large part to the intuition. Almost humbly, he insists that they do not demand any great degree of virtuosity. “Technique is necessary only to produce the different kinds of tone colours”, he says, stressing the cultural context of these pieces. “Debussy was a man supremely well versed in the arts, for which he clearly had a permanent thirst. And I think that one can give a lot more to each piece if one tries to understand the sort of artistic environment in which the composer lived.”
For Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the Préludes are a reflection of what Debussy saw and read and felt. But they are also reactions to poetic texts. Or else they reveal him amusing himself with literary or historical figures or sights he may have seen. “It is a way of distilling moments of life as seen through different filters.” Here lies one of the difficulties of this music. “Sometimes we know the sources, which may even be very obvious. But at other times it’s not clear at all, so we do not know exactly where Debussy is leading us, and this was no doubt intentional. He transforms what inspired him. He was a very secretive man, very turned in on himself”, Aimard explains, emphasising just how demanding Debussy’s music is. And yet it is not necessarily demanding for its listeners. For the latter, Aimard believes, this is above all music that affords pleasure – pleasure of both great subtlety and great profundity.
By the same token, the demands on the performer are immense. “Debussy’s music is so admirably realised, so perfectly crafted and so carefully weighed”, the pianist asserts, adding with a note of mischievousness: “In spite of everything, it still gives pleasure, because hard-won pleasures are sometimes the best.”
Pierre-Laurent Aimard is seduced by the fantastical variety of the Préludes, but at the same time he is struck by the way each piece is part of a greater whole, and by the unity of the total ensemble. “It is a unity that must be sought above all in Debussy’s use of certain intervals or certain melodic cells that combine to generate melodies. Sometimes the harmonies, too.” For Aimard, playing all twenty-four Préludes is an extraordinary experience but also an edifying one. He believes that the music must be left to find itself, while its performers must put themselves in a frame of mind appropriate to this or that piece, soak up its atmosphere and let it pass right through them in order to be able to shape it.
A leading exponent of contemporary works, Aimard repeats his view that Debussy’s music is resolutely turned towards the future. One could even describe it as modern music. It certainly influenced composers of succeeding generations.
By way of an example, Aimard cites “Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses”, which was directly inspired by a drawing by the English illustrator Arthur Rackham. “It was Messiaen who alerted me to references to Weber’s Oberon. When I examined the score more closely, I discovered a number of borrowings, secreted and hidden with an absolutely fantastic elegance, but they reveal that Debussy had made Weber’s sound-world his own and that he then took pleasure in playing with it. He takes possession of the object and allows it to cast a spell on him, while at the same time being unable to prevent himself from bending it a little – after all, he was very much a child at heart.”
And this is perhaps the other major feature of Debussy’s music that Pierre-Laurent Aimard finds so appealing: its ambiguity. The composer only hints at the truth, he hides himself away and plays with the ambiguities. These ambiguities are of course apparent in the very titles of these pieces. Aimard stresses that they can be interpreted in different ways, thereby demonstrating that the music contains multiple truths. Take the case of “Brouillards” (“Mists”). In order to illustrate his point, the pianist sits down at the piano.
“In this Prélude, the left hand amuses itself by playing perfect chords. There are also reminiscences of Stravinsky’s ballet, Petrushka. Meanwhile the right hand plays something entirely different, hiding the left hand’s unduly obvious harmonies. As a result, the image is very blurred. Sometimes you can just make it out, but then it disappears again.” What kind of a mist is this? Is it the musical transcription of a landscape that Debussy had actually seen? Or is it a musical game of hide-and-seek? Pierre-Laurent Aimard asks questions that remain hanging in the air. He sees Debussy as a musician who derives amusement from his own composition, a musician concealing his original point of reference before suddenly causing it to appear. “It is one of the elements of his magic. I adore it”, adds Aimard, striking a humorous note.