DEBUSSY La Mer STRAVINSKY Rite of Spring (Solo Piano)
Behold Debussy’s La mer and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: two landmark 20th-century scores that changed the veneer of orchestration, each ‘de-orchestrated’, so to speak, in the form of a virtuoso solo piano tour de force, in contrast to the composers’ respective, relatively utilitarian one-piano-four-hands arrangements.
Lucien Garban essentially transformed La mer into a Debussy piano piece, making textural choices that are akin to the composer’s keyboard idiom. In ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’, for example, the initial animated build-up (fig 2, around 1'09") evokes the gamelan-like polyrhythmic layering in ‘Pagodes’ from Estampes. The playful triplet motifs of ‘Jeux de vagues’ relate to similarly scampering passages in L’isle joyeuse, while the rapid flourishes leaping from one register to the next throughout ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’ are right out of the Préludes Book II playbook. Given Ralph van Raat’s formidable reputation as a new music champion, his ability to clarify foreground and background vagaries and sharp rhythmic precision do not surprise. That said, I prefer the more distant yet stylishly resonant sound of Lydia Jardon’s recording (AR Ré-Sé), together with her more animated tempos and suppler response to the composer’s sudden mood shifts.
I suspect that The Rite of Spring is more van Raat’s cup of tea. He brings plenty of motoric momentum to the table, yet is always cognisant of the melodic components superimposed upon repeating rhythmic cells. This is particularly apparent in the Introduction’s chattery counterpoint and in the pianist’s deft juggling of the broken bass octaves, middle-register repeated notes and darting woodwind licks in ‘Dance of the Earth’. And in ‘The Mystical Circles of the Young Girls’, van Raat generates a lovely give and take between the luscious repeated chords and the rarely emphasised tune in the left hand. In other words, van Raat is giving you the music behind the manifesto, while effortlessly dispatching the awesome demands of Vladimir Leyetchkiss’s keyboard deployment, save for one or two spots in ‘Dances of the Young Girls’ where you simply must slow down to grab the notes. And speaking of notes, van Raat provides his own excellent and informative booklet commentary.