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In his songs, Debussy's goal was to create a homology of sorts in which two texts, poetic and musical, merged, collapsing like light into a black hole, one into the other. Indeed, he codified in sound the images evoked by the intoned poem, creating, in effect, musical structures where metaphors are as much acoustic as literary. From this perspective, any evocative image, be it that of a material object or a state of mind, could be distilled as much as translated into its musical equivalent. This he did with uncommon precision, while rejecting any hint of the rhetorical. Debussy's supple rhythms and rich harmonic language, influenced in part by the ancient music of the Far East, became the ideal vehicle for painting a mood, no matter how complex or ephemeral.

Compositionally speaking Mozart's songs are more straightforward affairs, though no less pristine or aesthetically refined. What a pity, then, they are so rarely performed nowadays [listen -- track 22, 0:00-1:03]. Fortunately, Ms Banse is a smart and authoritative singer, if not as imaginative or interpretively specific in this repertoire as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was in her heyday. Though her pitch-perfect voice is strong, flexible and well-supported where it should be -- no signs of strain in this instrument -- she is not a musician yet given to exploiting the destiny of musical motive, or the character of a phrase.

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Copyright © 17 December 2003 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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