HOMMAGE À DEBUSSY • Carlo Grante (pn) • MUSIC & ARTS 1267 (67:02)
DEBUSSY Images: Books 1 and 2. Estampes. Arabesque No. 1. GRANTE Debussy-Pastiche. CASELLA À la maniere de…. DUKAS LaRead more Plainte. PIANA Image d’un faune
Carlo Grante has fashioned an imaginative “Hommage to Debussy” whose instrument, refined performances, and overall concept give it a place of distinction among other piano discs in honor of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The choice of recording on a 1924 Imperial Bösendorfer is inspired. While the instrument isn’t “authentic” for Debussy, it’s an exquisite piano whose sound is ideally suited to the music. Each note has the very focused, distinct sonority that I associate with Bösendorfers, but without the metallic brightness of quite a few of them. The tone of the instrument, with the exception of the very high treble, is beautifully mellow, even a little subdued. These qualities help to create a convincing water effect in Reflets dans l’eau and Pagodes to achieve a Gamelan-like variety of timbres. Grante’s playing of the familiar Debussy works is patiently phrased, rhythmically precise, and suitably nimble. He’s also beautifully recorded. Perhaps the most notable feature of his playing, aided by the piano’s refinement, is Grante’s control of the quietest levels of sound, for instance, in Images, Book 2’s Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut, or the opening of Jardins sur a pluie, whose pianissimo marking isn’t even attempted by most pianists.
The program offers some substantial and unusual extras in the form of four musical tributes to Debussy that capture something of the style of his mature piano writing. The intriguing works by Grante himself, Casella, Dukas, and Roberto Piana (b. 1971) evoke, rather than imitate Debussy. Piana’s Image d’un faune relies less on ostinatos than the others, and, with its sensuous sense of keyboard color, sounds the most like the French composer. Dukas aside, a theme of Italian hommage to Debussy is explored in these selections. Italian Debussy brings to mind Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s extraordinary recordings, in comparison to which Grante’s playing holds its own, offering even more chiseled precision, though perhaps less feeling of spontaneity. The booklet notes, by Grante himself, are highly intelligent and well written, and manage to give new information about these often described pieces, along with real insight into Debussy’s esthetic. Highly recommended.