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Debussy: Chamber Music / Pardoen, Tooten, De May

Release Date: 03/25/2008 
Label:  Pavane   Catalog #: 7520   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Damien PardoenStéphane De MayLuc Tooten
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY Violin Sonata. 1 Rêverie . Piano Trio in G. 1,2 Suite bergamasque: Clair de lune. Cello Sonata 2 Stéphane De May (pn); Damien Pardoen (vn); 1 Luc Tooten (vc); 2 PAVANE 7520 (59:15)
Collected on this disc are two of Debussy’s last and most important duo chamber works, the 1915 Cello Sonata and the 1917 Violin Sonata. Sandwiched between them on the disc are two of the composer’s favorites, Rêverie and “Clair de lune,” and his early, most ambitious chamber music undertaking prior to his famous 1893 String Quartet, the 1880 Piano Trio.

It was Debussy’s intent to complete a sextet of sonatas for various instruments before he died; but like Saint-Saëns, who had planned a valedictory quartet of sonatas for woodwind instruments and piano but never got around to writing the last one before taking his leave, Debussy came up short by three, completing only the cello and violin sonatas and the sonata for flute, viola, and harp.

Both of the sonatas on this disc, as noted, are very late works that have already passed beyond the Impressionist style with which Debussy is so widely associated. What Impressionism there is in these scores has been distilled down to a Classical, pristine, almost ascetic economy of expression. This is in keeping with my theory that the musical language of many of the great composers tends to evolve from the declamatory to the gestural. There are, as always of course, exceptions, but by and large composers learn how to communicate more with less. Pursuing this line of reasoning to its (il)logical conclusion, one could claim that silence being the most powerful form of communication, John Cage was the greatest of all composers. On that note, or its absence, moving on . . .

Rêverie and “Clair de lune” require little comment. The latter, especially, is so popular it is not uncommon to encounter it being played on the harp in upscale restaurants as an antacid alternative. I may make light, but these are beautiful, if somewhat sentimentalized, salon pieces.

The G-Major Piano Trio is Debussy before he became Debussy. One hears the influence of Franck, Saint-Saëns, and even more so that of Fauré. It’s an impressive accomplishment for an 18-year-old composer—a substantial and substantive nine-minute sonata-allegro first movement, followed by the traditional scherzo, slow movement, and fast finale. The Scherzo begins with an unusual pizzicato effect that resembles the sound of a woodblock.

All of these works are well represented on record. The two sonatas in particular are probably over-represented with nearly 50 for the cello sonata and over 50 for the violin sonata. And so the artists here are in head-to-head competition with some of the best: a gorgeous recording of the violin sonata coupled with other French favorites played by Joshua Bell, an unforgettable reading of the cello sonata with Nancy Green and Frederick Moyer, (whose recording of the Brahms cellos sonatas I’ve lauded repeatedly), and a winning performance of the piano trio on Hyperion by the Florestan Trio.

That said, I find myself quite taken by this new disc. The continuity of the program holds the attention, the performances strike me as idiomatic and sympathetic, and the recording is spacious yet richly detailed, warm, and without any distorting reverb. It was made at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels in 2007. Not indispensable, but still very nice. Recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Damien Pardoen (Violin), Stéphane De May (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; France 
Rêverie by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Stéphane De May (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1890; France 
Sonata for Cello and Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Stéphane De May (Piano), Luc Tooten (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; France 
Suite bergamasque: 3rd movement, Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Stéphane De May (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1890/1905; France 
Trio for Piano and Strings in G major by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Stéphane De May (Piano), Damien Pardoen (Violin), Luc Tooten (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1879-1880; France 

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