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Review: Cool and Subdued, a Pianist Saves Debussy From Cliché


The pianist Stephen Hough at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday for a program centered at the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s dying.

Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

What used to be the pianist Stephen Hough doing opening his Carnegie Hall recital on Tuesday, honoring the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s dying, with “Clair de lune”? The piece has been so overplayed that’s it’s virtually previous cliché.

Why now not do the entire paintings from which it’s drawn, Debussy’s early “Suite Bergamasque,” which you don’t regularly pay attention? And what have been Schumann’s bold Fantasy in C and Beethoven’s stormy “Appassionata” Sonata doing on a recital devoted to Debussy, who didn’t have a lot passion in both composer?

Well, the adventurous Mr. Hough, who could also be a composer, knew simply what he used to be as much as. His subdued account of “Clair de lune” set a contemplative temper within the corridor. I feel Mr. Hough used to be additionally sending any other message: Don’t suppose the rest about Debussy; even this well-liked early piece finds a radical within the making. Mr. Hough conveyed the exploratory components of “Clair de lune” by means of taking part in it with rhythmic integrity and now not a hint of expressive milking. He emphasised the halting waft of the airy melody, which unfolds in abrupt words that stay preventing momentarily to let a plush cohesion linger.

It led superbly into the second one ebook of “Images” (1907). (Mr. Hough contains each books of “Images” on his new Debussy recording for Hyperion, which could also be to be had for obtain.) The first piece, “Bells Through the Leaves,” presentations Debussy the pathbreaker. A easy falling and emerging determine, in accordance with a whole-tone scale, is quickly enshrouded with fluid arabesques and radiant sonorities. Mr. Hough introduced impish appeal to the gurgling figurations and splashy outbursts that counsel “Goldfish,” the identify of the 3rd piece. Yet he maintained a coolness that by no means let the track appear a mere workout in Impressionism, a time period Debussy strongly disavowed.

Claude Debussy - Piano Music - Stephen Hough (piano) Video by means of Hyperion Records

Despite his love-hate perspective towards Wagner, Debussy necessarily rejected the Germanic Romantic heritage. Still, the best way Mr. Hough performed the hole of Schumann’s Fantasy introduced out a nearly impressionistic high quality in it. The right-hand theme had the Aristocracy and grandeur, however the left hand used to be a whirling wash of surging harmonies. Mr. Hough dispatched the daunting center motion, a stirring march, with rhythmic chew and crispness, whilst bringing out the track’s jagged edges and journeys into the fantastical.

In “Images” Mr. Hough once more balanced atmospheric colorings with pinpoint highlighting of Debussy’s bold harmonic language. He ended with a darkish, taut account of Beethoven’s “Appassionata.” The feverish efficiency of the perpetual-motion finale used to be the entire extra terrifying for the reined-in pace Mr. Hough took — till the coda, performed with hellbent fury. And, to my marvel, the murky sounds Mr. Hough summoned right through stretches of dizzying passagework gave the impression to look forward to Debussy.

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