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Debussy: Estampes, Images Book 2, Preludes Book 2 / Russell Sherman


Release Date: 11/25/2008 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2164   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Russell Sherman
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

“Pagodes” has just the right amount of emotional distancing to enable it to emerge as a distant memory, and the performance of the Préludes, Book II ranks with Gieseking.

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DEBUSSY Estampes. Images, Set II. Préludes , Book II Russell Sherman (pn) AVIE 2164 (67:59)

Read more /> The excellent record company Avie seems to be extending its pianistic arm (if you’ll pardon the pun). Just last night (11/25/2008) I attended an all-Schubert piano recital in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall given by Imogen Cooper as part of the South Bank’s 2008-09 International Piano Series. Included in the program was a note that stated that the recital was being recorded by Avie, and the discs would be launched at Cooper’s next recital in this series (scheduled for April 2009). And here is a valuable Debussy recital by the well-respected Russell Sherman.


Sherman provides his own booklet notes in the form of an essay that just drips wisdom. Many a Debussy pianist of today should take his points to heart. He acknowledges the evocative, ephemeral nature of Debussy’s music while reminding us of the pieces’ firm structure and construction. He even perceptively refers to Debussy’s own recordings of “La soirée dans Grenade” and Children’s Corner , and yet has no problems paralleling “Cloches à travers les feuilles” with music by Feldman. Debussy’s exploration of gamelan is touched on (something we hear clearly in “Pagodes,” the first of the three Estampes ). Finally, he gives, Cortot-like, his own whimsical and enchanting descriptions of the pieces he plays.


The reading of Estampes is masterly. “Pagodes” has just the right amount of emotional distancing to enable it to emerge as a distant memory. “La soirée dans Grenade” includes, in Sherman’s commentary, “Carmen . . . slowly gyrating while she smokes a Turkish cigarette”; “Jardins sous la pluie” is magnificently voiced. Yet I prefer Bavouzet in the final analysis (Chandos 10443: Fanfare 31: 5), who seems even more attuned to the variety held within Debussy’s notes.


The second set of Images is notable for the tissue-paper delicacy of “Cloches à travers les feuilles.” Sherman’s description of “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut” is fairly fantastical: “In the belly of the snake the universe is slowly gestating, waiting for the birth of translucent genies whose colors are unblemished by mortality.” The good news is that the imagination of his playing matches and even transcends that of his descriptions. “Poissons d’or” is unpredictable and playful.


This well-filled disc concludes with an account of Préludes , Book II. Here is a performance that ranks with Gieseking and, more recently, Bavouzet and Osborne (the last named on Hyperion). There is much exquisite shading here (“Feuilles mortes” furnishes excellent examples of this trait). Gentle humor is part of the menu, too (“General Lavine”). Tellingly, in the more overtly humorous moments, Sherman is far less unbuttoned than Bavouzet. To compound matters, the proximity of the end of “General Lavine” to the beginning of “La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune” gives the distinct impression that Sherman is keen to return to the “true” Debussy. “Pickwick,” too, misses the mark. Sherman hits top form again in a marvelously elusive account of “Feux d’artifice,” which proceeds to explode in myriad colors before subsiding into what must be one of the most evocative Marseillaise quotes on disc.


The recording, which rivals but does not eclipse the Chandos team’s efforts for Bavouzet’s Debussy series, hails from July 2005; the venue was Jordan Hall, Boston. There is a huge amount to be grateful for here, and if you want this particular sequence of pieces, there is no real reason to hesitate.


FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

1.
Estampes (3) for Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Russell Sherman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
2.
Images for Piano, Set 2 by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Russell Sherman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; France 
3.
Préludes, Book 2 by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Russell Sherman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912-1913; France 

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