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Playful and capricious

Piano music by Debussy -
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'... skilful presentation ...'

Debussy Piano Music Vol 4: The Youthful Debussy. Roy Howat, piano. © 2003 Tall Poppies Records

Unlike Tchaikovsky, Debussy was frequently face to face with Nadezhda von Meck. He was her house pianist for three summers from 1880, and they played duets, including Tchaikovsky No 4, as she reported: 'Yesterday for the first time I played our Symphony with my little Frenchman. I cannot play it without a fever penetrating all the fibres of my being and for a whole day I cannot recover from the impression.' At eighteen Debussy made up for any technical deficiency by his score-reading. Madame von Meck was sufficiently impressed with the abilities of her 'Bussik' that she sent Tchaikovsky the Danse bohémienne. Tchaikovsky considered it 'a very nice little thing, but altogether too short. Not a single thought is developed to the end.' Its originality certainly deserved less faint praise than that [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:06].

At maison Meck Debussy was also pianist in a resident trio. This was the occasion for his writing a piano trio of his own. It was published only in 1986. Tchaikovsky heard about it, and Mme von Meck bemoaned the fact that he had not yet produced a trio. (She had to wait a couple of years for Tchaikovsky's mammoth Op 50.) The Intermède of the CD turned up only in 2001, making this a first recording of a fascinating piece. Playful and capricious, it is essentially a version of the Scherzo-Intermezzo from the trio. In his admirable notes, Roy Howat argues convincingly for Debussy's authorship, though the manuscript is in the hand of Dumesnil [listen -- track 2, 0:00-1:14].

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Copyright © 27 October 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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