DEBUSSY Preludes SATIE Gnossiennes (Fazil Say)
Given Fazıl Say’s proclivities for interpretative monkeyshines, I’m happy to report that the pianist largely exhibits good behaviour throughout this recital. To be sure, unorthodox touches abound. In Debussy’s Préludes Book 1, Say, like Michelangeli, arpeggiates chords willy-nilly, and he tends to make subtle dynamic gestures and accentuations unsubtle. His brisk pace for ‘Danseuses de Delphes’ almost trivialises the music’s processional gravitas, while, by contrast, he rivetingly sustains his slowly unfolding ‘Voiles’. No 3’s bristling winds murmur with tension, eventually unleashing a proverbial hurricane at the climax. He deftly navigates the characterful tempo changes of ‘Les collines d’Anacapri’ while bringing dissonances and inner voices to the fore.
Again, a few arbitrary rolled chords pull momentary focus from the rapt austerity and concentration prevailing in ‘Des pas sur la neige’. No 7’s turbulent west winds can be brutal in Say’s hands; his playing is exciting on the surface, yet Steven Osborne’s scrupulous scaling of dynamics offers more multi-levelled virtuosity. Say’s languorous and indulgent way with No 8 transforms Debussy’s innocent flaxen-haired protagonist into someone who’s ‘been around’, to which No 9’s refreshingly rakish and insouciant guitar-strumming beau can probably attest! In ‘La cathédrale engloutie’, Say adopts the unmarked yet implied tempo changes Debussy made in his 1913 Welte-Mignon piano roll to even more emphatic effect.
But Say’s tempo adjustments in ‘La danse de Puck’ yield occasional rhythmic inaccuracies (the right-hand pianissimo dotted notes starting at bar 30 sometimes get ‘undotted’, for example). Yet his metrical liberties and reverse dynamics delightfully underline the comically swaggering character of ‘Minstrels’. Listen to the way Say phrases the opening gruppetti and the ‘drumroll’ repeated-note phrases with coy hesitation; it’s almost as if he was accompanying a silent comedy short film.
While Debussy’s Préludes unquestionably hold interest when heard in sequence, the same cannot be said for Satie’s Six Gnossiennes and Trois Gymnopédies played one after another, unless you’re having a massage or looking for a refuge from the news cycles. At least Say does not try to oversell his deliberate, statuesque conceptions, which are further enhanced by the roomy and resonant acoustic.