Notes and Editorial Reviews
Une page d’éphéméride. Incises.
Etudes for Piano:
Yegor Shevtsov (pn)
NEW FOCUS 132 (42: 54)
It is often remarked that Debussy was the first modernist composer. There can be little doubt that that statement is true when one reads about the way the composer thought of music, the way he composed it, the outside forces which influenced his compositions, and the way that his
music sounds. It is no wonder then, that so many composers over the course of the 20th century have found so much in his music that has been influential to them—from Messiaen and Bartók to Takemitsu and here Boulez.
Beginning with the more recent of Boulez’s two works on the current recital, Yegor Shevtsov plunges us into the spiky and dissonant sound world of this composer. And though one always feels the presence of Webern, there is a particularly French aura that is so much a part of this music, one which fits in well with Debussy’s particularly modernist compositions. The pianist admirably handles the numerous difficulties in this music—the quirky rhythmic timings, the numerous alternations from one technique, even one sonority, to the other (forte vs. piano, spiky vs. smooth, full-bodied and harsh vs. translucent and gentle). Boulez’s pianistic
is difficult music to make sense of when one listens to it, but even more challenging to perform. Written in 1915, Debussy’s Etudes can rightfully be called some of the most influential piano music of the 20th century, and though it may fit in well with later works, it must be remembered that it is not music of a later era—it is still Debussy, a composer who was as influenced by Western music of the past as by exotic musical styles. Composed during the war years, it is obvious that that event played a huge role in shaping the sound world of the current compositions. Gone are the familiar titles of the Preludes or
; they are instead replaced by both mechanical and compositional descriptions (
Pour les accords
Pour les degrés chromatiques
). There is a mechanical rigidity to them, though they still possess a sense of grace, of a long forgotten, but not entirely absent, Romanticism. In Shevtsov’s hands these pieces sometime lack just that aspect, though his interests lie elsewhere, especially in the music’s rhythmic vitality. Boulez’s
round out the recital. Here Shevtsov approaches this music perfectly: not only does he have full command of the notes, he has mastered a number of different sonorities which help him to make sense of this music. He completely understands that most of the cascades of notes, the roulades and chord clusters, are really just musical gestures. They must all have a sense of belonging to that one gesture, otherwise this music simple sounds like a jumble of notes, a superfluity of bings and bongs.
Had Shevtsov included the rest of Debussy’s Etudes (the first six of Book I are missing here), I would warmly recommend this release; but given that this recording gives us only 43 minutes of music at a mid-range asking price, that is difficult to do. In general I prefer other performances of the Debussy Etudes to this one anyway—Uchida, Jacobs, and Pollini, plus Horowitz in the occasional encore of one. But Shevtsov shows yet another side of this highly multifaceted composer, a more late-20th-century view of this French giant. The Boulez on the other hand is wonderful. This is not music for everyone, but if one does not like this music, this is the kind of performance that might just change one’s mind.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
Works on This Recording
Incises by Pierre Boulez
Yegor Shevtsov (Piano)
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2001; France
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