Debussy, Bart—k

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COMPOSERS: Bartok,Debussy
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi Les nouveaux interprtes
WORKS: Études, Book 1; Etudes, Book 2
PERFORMER: Florent Boffard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMN 911733
Debussy’s Études were his last, and in many ways his most profoundly original, piano pieces. They are more ‘abstract’ than the better-known Préludes, and are as much studies in composition as in instrumental technique. The manner in which they explore overlapping layers of contrasting sonorities and tone-colours actually anticipates the preoccupations of a much later generation of composers; and just as the shadows of two earlier keyboard masters, Couperin and Chopin, fall over Debussy’s pieces, so they in turn are the direct forerunners of the fine ongoing series of studies by Ligeti.

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Although he appears under the banner of ‘new performers’, Florent Boffard is no youngster: he’s in his late thirties, and for many years was pianist in the Ensemble InterContemporain. His technique is formidable, and such very tricky pieces as ‘Pour les accords’ (for chords) and ‘Pour les octaves’ seem to hold no terrors for him. However, he does not always shape or shade the music as imaginatively as it requires, and the capricious character of some of the pieces – the studies for chromatic notes and for repeated notes, for instance – seems to elude him. In all these matters Mitsuko Uchida’s recording – one of the best things she has ever done – is generally preferable, and her keyboard colours are greatly aided by a superior recorded sound.

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Bartók’s unjustly neglected Three Studies were composed in 1918, just two years after Debussy’s pieces appeared, and may well have been influenced by them. Their inclusion on Boffard’s disc makes an apt and compelling bonus. Misha Donat