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Hyperion Records

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The Seine at Herblay (1890) by Paul Signac (1863-1935)
Track(s) taken from CDA66495
Recording details: March 1991
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 1995
Total duration: 13 minutes 52 seconds

Pour le piano, L95
1894-1901; first performed by Ricardo Vi˝es in January 1902

Prélude  [4'04]
Sarabande  [5'33]
Toccata  [4'15]

Other recordings available for download
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFranšaisDeutsch
From the early works to the suite Pour le piano is a big jump. Right away we hear the difference in the writing. It’s brilliant, virtuosic, at times very sombre—with terrific pianistic effects. The Prélude begins with the opening theme hammered out in the bass, followed by a long passage over a pedal point. When the theme comes again, this time with fortissimo chords in both hands, it is joined by glissandi that Debussy wanted to be dispatched like ‘d’Artagnan drawing his sword’. No rubato here. There’s a beautiful shimmering middle section over a high A flat pedal in the left hand in which the right hand daubs colour on the canvas. A ‘Tempo di cadenza’ takes up the last page with glissando-like flourishes divided between the two hands.

The Sarabande was written several years before the other movements, and Debussy revised it for inclusion in the final suite. Marked ‘with a slow and solemn elegance’, he said it should be ‘rather like an old portrait in the Louvre’. Émile Vuillermoz said Debussy played it ‘with the easy simplicity of a good dancer from the sixteenth century’. Indeed, it sounds both antique and modern at the same time—and it is one of my favourites among his piano works.

The final Toccata makes a triumphant ending to the suite. Debussy didn’t want speed to be the ultimate goal—to him, clarity was much more important. But there also had to be music. There is a telling story of him hearing a famous pianist play it in 1917, and, when Marguerite Long asked him about the interpretation, he replied: ‘Dreadful. He didn’t miss a note.’ ‘Shouldn’t you be happy then?’ she queried. ‘Oh, not like that’, he replied. Ricardo Viñes, who had learned of the suite from his friend Ravel, was entrusted with the premiere in January 1902. The title of the work is modest, but its importance and effect is anything but that. Many French pianists of his time commented on how important it was to approach Debussy’s piano music with the same diligence and rigour that one would apply to a Bach fugue—something that is often overlooked.

from notes by Angela Hewitt ę 2012

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