Debussy: Violin Sonata, Cello Sonata, Piano Trio

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Brilliant
ALBUM TITLE: Debussy: Violin Sonata, Cello Sonata, Piano Trio
WORKS: Piano Trio in G; Violin Sonata in G  minor; Cello Sonata in D minor; Intermezzo; Scherzo; Minstrels & La fille aux cheveux de lin (arr. for violin and piano); Première Arabesque (arr. for violin and piano); Romance No. 1 & Reverie (arr. for cello and piano)
PERFORMER: Trio Stradivari

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A visitor to Debussy’s study, failing to replace the legs of his armchair in the allotted holes, was roundly taxed with, ‘Are you trying to turn my carpet into a pin cushion?’ As in his life, in Debussy’s music everything needs to be in place. There is no excuse therefore for turning the opening phrases of both solo string sonatas from a firm, classical premise for future argument into unrhythmical jelly. Things do improve thereafter, but the Trio Stradivari musicians ignore too many of the instructions, most damagingly the ritenuto in the last movement of the Violin Sonata before the final peroration – a point at which the whole universe should be holding its breath.

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It’s not possible to do much damage to the Piano Trio: the 18-year-old Debussy was no Mendelssohn, and I can’t believe he would have been happy to see this music disinterred. The lighter pieces in general fare better, especially the Intermezzo and Scherzo, written within a week of each other in June 1882, in which the composer’s playful side is beginning to emerge. But, as played here, the virtuosic arrangement of the Prélude ‘Minstrels’ (which may not be by Debussy, despite all claims) buries the music under a welter of violin effects. Roger Nichols