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Debussy, Ravel: Piano Music / Ilja Hurnik

Debussy / Hurnik
Release Date: 01/22/2013 
Label:  Supraphon   Catalog #: 4119   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Ilja Hurník
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY Arabesques. Estampes. Images, Books I and II. Children’s Corner. RAVEL Valses nobles et sentimentales Ilja Hurník (pn) SUPRAPHON 4119-2 (81:21)

At first, this release appears of limited interest. Ilja Hurník is what you might call a “local celebrity.” A composer, writer, teacher, and performer, he is praised in the booklet as “one of the most remarkable Read more figures of contemporary Czech culture”; but aside from a few random compositions that show up on one collection or another (see Scott Wheeler’s review of his Sonata da Camera in Fanfare 16:3), he has made only a small impact in the West. These “acclaimed” Debussy and Ravel recordings (to quote the program booklet), originally made in the late 1950s ( Children’s Corner and the Ravel) and 1968, are being rereleased in honor of Hurník’s 90th birthday—and the fact that they’ve waited until now for digitization certainly raises questions about just how “acclaimed” they were. Reading the Gramophone reviews from their first appearance doesn’t raise hopes. The mannerisms in Children’s Corner “infuriated” Stephen Plaistow so much that he “lost interest” not only in the pianist, but the music as well (August 1962). His damnation with faint praise a decade later was a step up; but surely, calling someone a “good” pianist whose playing is “solid” and whose interpretations are “not tasteless” hardly constitutes a ringing endorsement.

In fact, these turn out to be distinguished Debussy performances, notable in particular for their pellucid tone, their sensitive dynamics, their acute rhythmic sense (listen to the chipper opening of the second Arabesque or the swing on the Spanish gestures in La soirée dans Grenade ), and—most of all—their splendid, sometimes daringly flexible, elucidation of the music’s breathing patterns, offering relaxation without slackness, impetus without pressure. Highpoints? The silken ppp at the end of Reflets dans l’eau , the mournful eloquence of Hommage à Rameau , the darting of Poissons d’or , the intimacy of Jimbo’s Lullaby …I could go on. In fact, nearly every piece here is vividly characterized and technically assured. The sharply profiled Ravel, with its astute sense of irony, provides a welcome discmate.

The sound is more or less in line with other Supraphon productions from the period. All in all, warmly recommended to pianophiles.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

Images for Piano, Set 2 by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Ilja Hurník (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; France 
Images for Piano, Set 1 by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Ilja Hurník (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905; France 
Estampes (3) for Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Ilja Hurník (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Arabesques (2) for Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Ilja Hurník (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1888-1891; France 
Children's Corner by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Ilja Hurník (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Valses nobles et sentimentales by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Ilja Hurník (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; France 

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