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Claude Debussy: The Composer as Pianist

Claude Debussy , Debussy Claude Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1. Préludes (12) for piano, Book I, L. 117: Danseuses de Delphes
2. Préludes (12) for piano, Book I, L. 117: La cathédrale engloutie
3. Préludes (12) for piano, Book I, L. 117: La danse de Puck
4. Préludes (12) for piano, Book I, L. 117: Minstrels
5. Préludes (12) for piano, Book I, L. 117: Le vent dans la plaine
6. La plus que lente, waltz for piano (or orchestra), L. 121
7. Estampes, for piano, L. 100: La soirées dans Grenade
8. Children's Corner, suite for piano (or orchestra), L. 113: Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum
9. Children's Corner, suite for piano (or orchestra), L. 113: Jimbo's Lullaby
10. Children's Corner, suite for piano (or orchestra), L. 113: Serenade for the Doll
11. Children's Corner, suite for piano (or orchestra), L. 113: The Snow is Dancing
12. Children's Corner, suite for piano (or orchestra), L. 113: The Little Shepherd
13. Children's Corner, suite for piano (or orchestra), L. 113: Golliwog's Cake Walk
14. D'un cahier d'esquisses, for piano, L. 99
15. Pelléas et Mélisande, opera in 5 acts, L. 88: Mes longs cheveux
16. Ariettes oubliées (6), song cycle for voice & piano, L. 60: Green
17. Ariettes oubliées (6), song cycle for voice & piano, L. 60: L'ombre des Arbres
18. Ariettes oubliées (6), song cycle for voice & piano, L. 60: Il pleure dans mon coeur

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory. Jan. 27 2004
Format:Audio CD
Debussy lived into the age of recording, but the primary documents of his playing are his Welte-Mignon piano rolls. The Welte-Mignon contraption was a mechanical "player" which you set before a regular piano. It differed from the familiar player piano in that it could reproduce not only dynamics but touch and pedal technique. Mahler also recorded some of his pieces in this way. The problem with these things is their extreme fussiness. There's a problem with getting them to play at the intended speeds. You don't know, for example, how fast or slow Debussy intended, say, "La cathedrale engloutie" simply by looking at the roll. Also, apparently Welte-Mignon players were fitted to the individual piano. However, Pierian has used the talents of an engineer, Kenneth Caswell, who has devoted decades to the innards of the player, and the results have won the imprimatur of Harold Schoenberg himself, formerly a severe critic of modern Welte-Mignon reproduction. That's good enough for me.
All that said, I consider this one of the ten most important releases in the history of recording, even though I don't know what the other nine would be. Debussy is one of the master composers of keyboard music, along with Scarlatti, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Bartok, Ravel, and Prokofiev. So the recording is the equivalent of having Bach play the Goldbergs for you. Does Debussy differ from benchmark performances, like Gieseking? Not to take anything away from Gieseking, but, yes, he does. I can describe it as an extreme inwardness, as if the composer were communing with himself. The fingerwork isn't as sure as some, but the outstanding feature of the playing is its outstanding singing or, considering the composer's subtle temperament, humming.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
67 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory. Jan. 27 2004
By Steve Schwartz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Debussy lived into the age of recording, but the primary documents of his playing are his Welte-Mignon piano rolls. The Welte-Mignon contraption was a mechanical "player" which you set before a regular piano. It differed from the familiar player piano in that it could reproduce not only dynamics but touch and pedal technique. Mahler also recorded some of his pieces in this way. The problem with these things is their extreme fussiness. There's a problem with getting them to play at the intended speeds. You don't know, for example, how fast or slow Debussy intended, say, "La cathedrale engloutie" simply by looking at the roll. Also, apparently Welte-Mignon players were fitted to the individual piano. However, Pierian has used the talents of an engineer, Kenneth Caswell, who has devoted decades to the innards of the player, and the results have won the imprimatur of Harold Schoenberg himself, formerly a severe critic of modern Welte-Mignon reproduction. That's good enough for me.
All that said, I consider this one of the ten most important releases in the history of recording, even though I don't know what the other nine would be. Debussy is one of the master composers of keyboard music, along with Scarlatti, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Bartok, Ravel, and Prokofiev. So the recording is the equivalent of having Bach play the Goldbergs for you. Does Debussy differ from benchmark performances, like Gieseking? Not to take anything away from Gieseking, but, yes, he does. I can describe it as an extreme inwardness, as if the composer were communing with himself. The fingerwork isn't as sure as some, but the outstanding feature of the playing is its outstanding singing or, considering the composer's subtle temperament, humming. I can't imagine anybody interested in Debussy's piano music passing up this CD.
We also get Debussy's acoustic recordings as Mary Garden's accompanist in the Ariettes oubliees and in an extract from Pelleas. These to me have more problems than the rolls, mainly because the sound is so crude, but I make that judgment precisely because I have the rolls. Without Caswell's dedication, I'd have been extremely grateful for the acoustic recordings.
43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A primary source for interpreting Debussy July 1 2002
By Steve Bryson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is an album of Debussy's piano works played by Debussy himself. Most of the pieces are from rolls recorded by Debussy and played on Ken Caswell's beautifully and carefully restored Welte reproducing piano. There are also four acoustic recordings of Debussy vocal works, with Debussy playing piano.

The Welte reproducing piano records and plays back many aspects of piano playing (dynamics and touch) at remarkably high fidelity for the time. Thus these piano rolls are primary documents showing how Debussy intended his works to be played. While these recordings to not have the fidelity of modern acoustic recordings, it is possible to detect pedaling, tempo and dynamics. This recording has been the basis of scholarly research, such as the essay by Cecilia Denoyer in the book "Debussy in Performance", edited by James Briscoe.

The acoustic recordings of the vocal works are of much lower fidelity, but do give a sense of Debussy's feel of the piano.

If you are studying Debussy's piano works and want to know how to interpret his notation, this album is for you. If you just want to listen to Debussy's piano works, a modern recording may be more musically pleasing, but you may still enjoy hearing the pieces as they were played by the master himself.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Debussy Discovered March 29 2009
By Dwight D. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I had known that Debussy had performed a few piano rolls before he died, shortly before the victory against the German's during World War One. It was sad to know that he passed before the knowledge of that inevitable victory for his country.
Piano rolls was the only source close to any composers treatment of actual performances of their own compositions. The special thing about piano rolls over transcriptions is that it can be applied to new and current technology so that it sounds like it was recorded yesterday on the finest concert grand piano.
There is a new CD of Debussy's entire piano roll performances, similar to this. But this CD is slightly superior in sound quality in that the microphone placement is slightly closer to the soundboard, making the overall sound up close and a little more intimate that the current release, which almost has the sound of it being in a high school auditorium. The fault here is that you don't really hear the richness of the piano as apposed to the distant and interfering acoustics of wherever the recording was made.
There's a new technology out only in the past few years where you can now take a scratchy, old and even worn recorded disc and transfer that information into a computer software and then take the next step and translate that information onto what can only be described as a brand new piano roll that can be applied to whatever grand piano the producer of this technology wants. Thus old recordings of solo piano performances can sound absolutely brand new. This was recently done with an Art Tatum performance from 1948 that was released originally as an old and worn record. Now it sounds brand spanking new as if Art was around today, around over a half century after his death. What's more amazing about this technology is that the next step may be to actually take a multiple instrumental recording, anylize and break down the frequencies of the various instruments and re-mix them into new and even stereophonic recordings. It would be nice to see this in my lifetime and I hope it happens. I'm 56.
Debussy is my favorite classical composer and very underated compared to the other masters like Bach,, Beethoven, Mozart and the other more accepted standard artists. Someday he'll get his due. Fortunately for now we have these recordings of the piano rolls. Invaluable.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory Feb. 26 2012
By Steven Schwartz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Debussy lived into the age of recording, but the primary documents of his playing are his Welte-Mignon piano rolls. The Welte-Mignon contraption was a mechanical "player" which you set before a regular piano. It differed from the familiar player piano in that it could reproduce not only dynamics but touch and pedal technique. Mahler also recorded some of his pieces in this way. The problem with these things is their extreme fussiness. There's a problem with getting them to play at the intended speeds. You don't know, for example, how fast or slow Debussy intended, say, "La cathedrale engloutie" simply by looking at the roll. Also, apparently Welte-Mignon players were fitted to the individual piano. However, Pierian has used the talents of an engineer, Kenneth Caswell, who has devoted decades to the innards of the player, and the results have won the imprimatur of Harold Schoenberg himself, formerly a severe critic of modern Welte-Mignon reproduction. That's good enough for me.

All that said, I consider this one of the ten most important releases in the history of recording, even though I don't know what the other nine would be. Debussy is one of the master composers of keyboard music, along with Scarlatti, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Bartok, Ravel, and Prokofiev. So the recording is the equivalent of having Bach play the Goldbergs for you. Does Debussy differ from benchmark performances, like Gieseking? Not to take anything away from Gieseking, but, yes, he does. I can describe it as an extreme inwardness, as if the composer were communing with himself. The fingerwork isn't as sure as some, but the outstanding feature of the playing is its outstanding singing or, considering the composer's subtle temperament, humming. I can't imagine anybody interested in Debussy's piano music passing up this CD.

We also get Debussy's acoustic recordings as Mary Garden's accompanist in the Ariettes oubliees and in an extract from Pelleas. These to me have more problems than the rolls, mainly because the sound is so crude, but I make that judgment precisely because I have the rolls. Without Caswell's dedication, I'd have been extremely grateful for the acoustic recordings.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Dec 11 2012
By feather pen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
How eerie to hear him play his own music. Found this startling recording by chance, as he died in 1917? 1918? and who thought anyone had recorded anything by him! Warmth of tone, smooth and emphatic dynamics, the mastery confirms what I have read how he sight read 'The Rite of Spring' to play with Igor, when Stravinsky brought the score to try out. The ease and command of the instrument come through in an inspiring way. Too bad the Prix de Rome was such an ordeal for him, though all that study developed his astonishing abilities for composition. Did you know he worked for Mme von Meck, ~ Tchaikovsky's erstwhile patron~to play piano with her children ? Luckily her daughter was too grand for young Claude, and he went back to Paris. I have read master musicians state his 'Pelleas and Melisande' is one of the finest and most innovative pieces of the 20th C, though I have yet to appreciate it, as the piano music takes me away.
This is from another world. Don't expect edited perfection of recording you get in digital nowadays, but this is the heart and soul.
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