Thursday, November 2, 2017

Alfred Cortot Plays Debussy & Ravel

Schumann’s Kinderszenen and Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite together form the most touching and vernal tribute in music to childhood fantasy, a world seen through both amused and nostalgic eyes. Composed between 1906-8, Children’s Corner is dedicated to Debussy’s daughter Chou-chou, "avec les tendres excuses de son père pour ce qui va suivre", and received its Paris première by the English pianist Harold Bauer. Cortot was a felicitous writer as well as pianist, and in his two-volume French Piano Music he writes at length on Debussy’s Children’s Corner, especially the composer’s witty and affectionate tilt at the piano exercises of Clementi in "Dr Gradus ad Parnassum". For him the music’s alternation of energy and lethargy reflects a child’s boredom with his or her task, an almost painful need to stop and dream or to simply "get through it". A ray of sunlight, a passing fly or the sight of a rose shedding its petals, anything would be preferable to the task in hand. Yet it is no less characteristic of Debussy to emulate his beloved Chopin, and compose an etude that transforms prose into poetry, clothing an arid five-finger exercise in rainbow colours, a harmonic subtlety, light and shade all its own. In "]imbo’s Lullaby" (Debussy’s limited English meant that "Jumbo" became "Jimbo") Chou-chou’s toy elephant is sung to sleep, passing through a brief nightmare into final snoring contentment. Her doll, by way of contrast, parades her finery to the sound of guitars and a distant gamelan-inspired melody, and slips into sudden reverie before making a sophisticated exit. "The Snaw is Dancing" is surely the nodal and expressive centre of the set. Here Debussy most daringly suggests the soundless fall of snow (though a toccata, the music rarely rises above piano) and the mixture of delight and regret aroused by his daughter’s face pressed to a window pane in rapt contemplation of her first winter magic. As Cortot so fancifully asks “what has happened to the birds and flowers, and when will the sun shine again ?” The Little Shepherd pipes his disconsolate tune while the "Golliwog’s Cake-Walk" preens and poses with tipsy aplomb, capping one form of satire with another. The southern Negro’s aping of his master’s fancy steps is combined with a sly dig at Tristan, the indication "avec une grand emotion" followed by a derisory chuckle.
Brice Morrison, from the booklet

Alfred Cortot


Claude Debussy

Children's Corner
1 Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum  1:52
2 Jimbo's Lullaby  2:25
3 Serenade for the Doll  1:46
4 The Snow is Dancing  2:20
5 The Little Shepherd  2:12
6 Golliwog's Cakewalk  2:35

Book I
7 Danseuses de Delphes  2:47
8 Voiles  2:48
9 Le Vent dans la plaine  2:02
10 "Les Sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir"  2:36
11 Les Collines d'Anacapri  2:46
12 Des pas sur la neige  2:59
13 Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest  3:15
14 La Fille aux cheveux de lin  1:48
15 La Sérénade interrompue  2:12
16 La Cathédrale engloutie  4:34
17 La Danse de Puck  2:24
18 Minstrels  1:53

19 Minstrels (From Préludes, book. 1, n° 12)  2:02

Violin Sonata in G Minor
20 I. Allegro vivo  3:57
21 II. Intermède  3:56
22 III. Finale  3:33

23 La Fille aux cheveux de lin (Préudes, book. 1, n° 8)  1:55
24 Le Vent dans la Plaine (Préludes, book. 1, n° 3)  1:54

Maurice Ravel

25 I. Modéré  4:01
26 II. Minuet  2:37
27 III. Animé  3:28

28 Jeux d'eau  4:35


Alfred Cortot - p
Jacques Thibaud - vl [# 19-22]

Recorded at Small Queen's Hall, Studio C ; June 5, 1928 [# 3-6, 23 & 24] ; & December 11, 1928 [# 1 & 2] ; June 2, 1930 ; May 12/13, 1931 ; July 2, 1931 [# 7-18] ; June 7, 1929 [# 19-22] ; May 11, 1931 [# 25-28]


Henry said...

Hi. Many thanks to this great post! Could you update the link? Thank you!

Melanchthon said...

rev.b said...


bhowani bhowani said...

Thank you, Mel !