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Vast numbers of studies have been written on Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and his piano music; is there anything new left to say? Perspectives on Debussy, a collection of articles drawn from a 2012 Paris colloquium to celebrate the composer’s 150th birthday, provides a resounding affirmative. A preface by Pierre Boulez describes the mysterious ‘fluidity’ and ‘very disarticulated and discontinuous sounds’ in Debussy’s Première Arabesque and Preludes. These keyboard mysteries were elucidated by Debussy himself, who in 1904 accompanied the soprano Mary Garden in two vocal recordings. Years later, Garden wrote: ‘When you get the chance to listen to Debussy playing the piano, don’t miss it.’ Indeed. A chapter by pianist and musicologist Roy Howat explains that although a stickler for performers obeying his markings, Debussy was a fairly free interpreter of his own works in the two aforementioned examples, accelerating and sometimes lacking tempo stability. Discussing other early Debussy performers, Howat values the authenticity of the pianist and singer Jane Bathori (1877-1970), who accompanied herself on recordings from 1928, as opposed to the ‘languorous freedom’ of 1936 recordings by pianist Alfred Cortot and soprano Maggie Teyte. An illuminating chapter by the musicologist François Anselmini underlines how the ultra- French Debussy ridiculed Cortot for his love of German music. For his part, Cortot disliked Debussy’s early compositions and was unable to surmount the technical challenges of such Debussy works as the Etudes and Images. Fortunately, others have, and this valuable book helps us understand his music in all its fluidity.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing