'A sense of real joy' pervades this performance of sonatas by Debussy

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Album title:
Debussy
Composer(s):
Debussy
Works:
Cello Sonata; Violin Sonata; Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; Piano Trio; Syrinx
Performer:
Renaud Capuçon (violin), Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Gerard Caussé (viola), Edgar Moreau (cello), Marie-Pierre Langlamet (harp), Bertrand Chamayou (piano)
Label:
Erato
Catalogue Number:
9029577396
Performance:
starstarstarstarstar
Recording:
starstarstarstarstar
5
Reviewer:
BBC Music Magazine
'A sense of real joy' pervades this performance of sonatas by Debussy

There’ll be a lot of Debussy around in 2018, the centenary of the French composer’s death. With this recording, a group of France’s finest musicians gets ahead of the game to celebrate his chamber music – and by doing so prove that sometimes anniversaries can indeed be jolly good things.

It was Fauré who once said that ‘music exists to lift us as far as possible above what is’ – ie, to take us out of reality. But Debussy’s late sonatas do just that, with exceptional purity: in these, his last compositions, he reaches a peak of abstract inventiveness that distills his language to its essence. The structures are dazzling in their originality, and supremely concise. Every note counts, with no sound too much or too little. The energy, too, is pure – neither visionary nor tragic, despite the raging of the First World War outside and Debussy’s cancer within. 

Beginning in 1915, he had planned six sonatas – a genre he had never espoused before – for a variety of different instruments. Mortality intervened after he had written only three: the Sonatas for Cello and Piano, for Flute, Viola and Harp, and for Violin and Piano. Terminally ill and deeply distressed by the ongoing war, he added beside his signature 
on the Violin Sonata’s manuscript the simple words ‘musicien français’. 

A sense of joy in collegial music-making pervades these performances. Unlike many, violinist Renaud Capuçon, pianist Bertrand Chamayou and their colleagues do not avoid the vein of sensual passion that glows beneath Debussy’s perfectionism. The eloquent tone of cellist Edgar Moreau captures to a T the sometimes perplexed, sometimes ecstatic pathos of the Cello Sonata’s hint at ‘Pierrot faché avec la lune’. 

Capuçon and Chamayou navigate the characterful whimsy of the Violin Sonata, treading a fine line between playful lightness and extrovert expression. Perhaps finest of all is the beautiful balance of elegiac tone that shines out of the Sonata for Flute Viola and Harp, performed with deep empathy by the dream-team of flautist Emmanuel Pahud, viola player Gerard Caussé and harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet. Pahud also plays Syrinx, providing an evocative and subtle interpretation. 

The very early Piano Trio – written while the youthful Debussy was working in Russia as a music tutor in the household of Tchaikovsky’s former patron, Nadezhda von Meck – by contrast emerges from the shadow of Romanticism. Here Chamayou, Capuçon and Moreau nevertheless find the seeds of the mingled sensuality and other-worldliness Debussy later went on to perfect. 

Sound quality throughout is absolutely excellent.

Jessica Duchen

Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.

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