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Images Et Mirages - Hommage A Debussy / Sandro Russo

Release Date: 10/19/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30105
Composer:  Claude Debussy ,  Florent Schmitt ,  Paul Dukas ,  Manuel de Falla Performer:  Sandro Russo Number of Discs: 1

Paying tribute to Claude Debussy on the 100th anniversary of his death made me wish from the very start to create a portrait of him that not only features his undisputed masterpieces, but also recreates his world through the vision of those composers upon whom he had a big influence.
-- Sandro Russo

Album Credits:
Recorded May 27 and June 12, 2018 at Patrych Sound Studio, New York City.
Producer/Engineer Joseph Patrych
Mixing and Mastering: Joseph Patrych
Piano Technician: Kenneth Farnum, Jr.
Piano: Steinway Model D #147 (Hamburg)

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda
Read more Carrasquillo
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford

Here’s a late entry among 2018’s numerous Debussy anniversary offerings, featuring pianist Sandro Russo in Images Books 1 and 2, alongside myriad transcriptions plus pieces by other composers written in homage to Debussy. ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ gains contrast and nuance as it progresses, if never quite attaining the litheness and shimmer of Michelangeli or Moravec. By contrast, the steadiness and classical reserve of ‘Hommage à Rameau’ is right on the money. Russo controls the swirling patterns of ‘Mouvements’ perfectly, yet I miss the sheer exhilaration and harmonic shadings distinguishing the Bavouzet and Aimard traversals. Somehow Book 2’s relatively abstract idiom elicits more responsive and flexible pianism from Russo, which was also the case for Stephen Hough’s 2018 Images cycle, notably in the playful accents and petulant crescendos of ‘Poissons d’or’.

Russo casts diverse light and shade on the intricate piano-writing throughout Schmitt’s tribute piece, while idiomatically pepping up the little Dukas tribute with just the right dose of sultry spice. In the Dukas, the pianist keeps the decorative filigree and gently insistent tolling repeated notes in consistent three-dimensional perspective. The variety of colour that he draws out of Leonard Borwick’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune transcription impresses even more when you realise how discreetly Russo pedals.

Anyone who can get through the difficult and cruelly exposed hurdles in Vladimir Leyetchkiss’s transcription of ‘Fêtes’ with Russo’s relaxed aplomb has my admiration, but I wish he had imparted more bite and momentum to the central march section. Yet Russo’s effortless foreground/background delineation of Lindaraja in Jean Roger-Ducasse’s solo version makes you forget the original two-piano scoring. Expertly crafted and musically satisfying as the Attwood and Ericourt song transcriptions may be, one still loses the conversational character of Debussy’s word-settings. Once again, Russo reveals a knack for unusual and ear-catching programme concepts and for writing succinct, informative booklet notes. A fine release, overall.

-- Gramophone

It’s evident Sandro Russo knows his charge when it comes to the color-in-want from Claude Debussy. This exposition of the Italian’s wishes and desires is handled with balance, thoughtfulness and introspection.

Seeing that this impeccable Steinway & Sons recording is subtitled “Hommage à Debussy” engenders a pensive CD outline. The opening piece, “Reflets dans l’eau”, says it all: we’re in a scarf of rumination...both selection and position of assorted compositions are artistically inclined. The format is unveiled: a Debussy piece is performed, followed by a réflexion [from another composer.] The best representation of this dichotomous resolve lands inside Paul Dukas’ “La Plainte, au loin, du faune” and the indirect pings of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.

One of the indelible impressions of M. Russo’s fascinations is how Debussy’s musical warmth is handled with decorum of distance. For example, the Images, Set II elicits persuasive auras without pounding the listener with inveterate literalism...edges are softened without relinquishing Debussian purpose.

If Claude Debussy is wholeheartedly personified as “contemporary”, then one’s mind will be reconditioned through the approaches by Borwick and Leyethchkiss. Sandro Russo climbs another rung by politely notching up his take of elegant sophistication. As the clock moves forward, so goes the theory of maturity. Jean Roger-Ducasse’s transcription of Lindaraja makes for a brocaded, sporty habanera-like rhythm, landing yet another argument in favor of M. Russo’s keen persuasive energies.

We seem to be moved into a greater mode modern when experiencing interpretations by Koji Attwood and Daniel Ericourt. Their collection of Debussy’s “Three Songs” magnifies the tribute. The listener appears to be catapulted into the 21st century, complimented by the finesse of Sandro Russo.

Although Sandro Russo’s overall vibe trends conservatively, pockets of greater determination are ingrained: we turn back to the “Mouvement” from Images. In this case the thematic “rush” is appropriate and predominant. Sandro Russo senses a fast forward thinking approach as he plays the notes, giving Debussy’s movement greater credibility and plausible chemistry.

“Images et Mirages” has an even-handed approach to Claude Debussy. Devoid of overt frills and cataclysmic gyrations makes Sandro Russo persuasive, genuine and grounded in performance. A convincing display.

“Sandro Russo, under the title 'Images et Mirages, Hommage A Debussy', includes a significant number of Debussy works transcribed for solo piano by a number of arrangers. There are orchestral works; Afternoon of a Faun (arr. Leonard Borwick) and Fêtes (arr. Vladimir Leyetchkiss); a two-piano work; Lindaraja (arr. Roger-Ducasse) and three songs: ‘Il Pleure dans mon Coeur’ (arr. Daniel Ericourt), ‘Nuit d’etoles’ and ‘Beau Soir’ (arr. Koji Attwood). Added to these are a fascinating group of works inspired by or honoring Debussy by other composers; Schmitt, Falla, and Dukas. Finally, to bring the repertoire back to masterpieces by Debussy, Russo plays both books of Images with all of the skill and sensitivity expected of a master pianist. Steinway’s always superb piano sound and Russo’s brief but perceptive notes complete the package.”

-- James Harrington, American Record Guide

In 1920, two years after the death of Debussy, the new French-based musical publication Le Revue Musicale organized a tribute to the great man, and commissioned 10 composers to craft short works to honor his memory. This tombeau de Debussy featured new music by several of the major figures of the day, including Stravinsky, Bartók, and Ravel. In this beguiling recital, the young Italian pianist Sandro Russo interweaves three other contributors, no small players themselves—Florent Schmitt, Paul Dukas, and Manuel de Falla—into a generous selection of Debussy’s music, including six of the Images, plus a handful of unusual transcriptions.

The first thing to say about this thoughtful collection is that Sandro Russo is a wonderful Debussy interpreter. His splendid technique includes masterful manipulation of tonal color within tautly constructed phrases. His pacing is deliberate, as opposed to histrionically dreamy. His selections from the two books of Images are on par with the massive competition, and he also offers several novel transcriptions. The ebullient arrangement of Fêtes is especially effective as a solo piano vehicle, while the overexposed (but undeniably beautiful) Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune loses emotional depth sans the sonorous qualities of the orchestral version. Songs transcribed for piano, too, invariably seem diminished compared to the original vocalizations (Liszt’s grandiloquent transcriptions of Schubert songs are exceptions). Russo plays them with endearing reverence, nevertheless.

Of the three tombeau de Debussy composers, Schmitt hews closest to Debussy’s aesthetic world, with a kind of enhanced Impressionism, while Dukas, sounding nothing like the high-spirited composer of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, offers a dark reinterpretation of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. De Falla presents the most interesting homage, incorporating Debussy harmonies into a sultry dance inflected with Iberian rhythms. This is more than fitting, given Debussy’s interest in Spanish musical traditions, as heard here in Lindaraja, originally written as a four-hand piano work. In all, this is an intriguing and enjoyable recital.

--Peter Burwasser, Fanfare

Sandro Russo’s playing has often been described as a throwback to the grand tradition of elegant pianism and beautiful sound. On “Images and Mirages,” Russo pays a heartfelt tribute to Claude Debussy on the 100th anniversary of his death. Russo creates a portrait of the composer that not only highlights his many masterpieces, but which also recreates his world through the composers he influenced. Thus, featured on the album are “hommages” to Debussy, written as part of a collective tribute, Le tombeau de Claude Debussy.

-- WFMT Read less