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PRELUDES VOL.1 - CHOPIN-DUTILLEUX
Alexandra Dariescu

 

 

 
1. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:41]
24 Preludes Op.28 - i - Agitato

2. Chopin, Fryderyk [02:01]
24 Preludes Op.28 - ii - Lento

3. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:02]
24 Preludes Op.28 - iii - Vivace

4. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:46]
24 Preludes Op.28 - iv - Largo

5. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:41]
24 Preludes Op.28 - v - Molto Allegro

6. Chopin, Fryderyk [02:13]
24 Preludes Op.28 - vi - Lento assai

7. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:46]
24 Preludes Op.28 - vii - Andantino

8. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:57]
24 Preludes Op.28 - vii - Molto agitato

9. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:18]
24 Preludes Op.28 - ix - Largo

10. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:32]
24 Preludes Op.28 - x - Molto allegro

11. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:38]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xi - Vivace

12. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:17]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xii - Presto

13. Chopin, Fryderyk [03:05]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xiii - Lento

14. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:35]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xiv - Allegro

15. Chopin, Fryderyk [04:45]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xv - Sostenuto

16. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:17]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xvi - Presto con fuoco

17. Chopin, Fryderyk [02:57]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xvii - Allegretto

18. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:57]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xviii - Molto allegro

19. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:34]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xix - Vivace

20. Chopin, Fryderyk [01:32]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xx - Largo

21. Chopin, Fryderyk [02:02]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xxi - Cantabile

22. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:46]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xxii - Molto agitato

23. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:54]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xxiii - Moderato

24. Chopin, Fryderyk [02:31]
24 Preludes Op.28 - xxiv - Allegro appassionato

25. Dutilleux, Henri [02:52]
Trois Preludes - i - D'ombre et de silence

26. Dutilleux, Henri [03:35]
Trois Preludes - ii - Sur un meme accord

27. Dutilleux, Henri [06:34]
Trois Preludes - iii - Le Jeu des Contraires

28. Chopin, Fryderyk [00:54]
Prelude Op. posth. Presto con leggierezza

29. Chopin, Fryderyk [05:16]
Prelude Op.45 Sostenuto

Artist(s):
Alexandra Dariescu, piano

· Alexandra Dariescu presents the first disc in a “Trilogy of Preludes” containing the complete works of this genre by Chopin and Dutilleux.

· Frederic Chopin composed his 24 preludes, op. 28, one in each of the 12 major and 12 minor keys, between 1835 and 1839, commissioned by the pianist, publisher, impresario and piano manufacturer Camille Pleyel.

· Henri Dutilleux’s 3 Preludes were not designed as a set but composed at intervals between 1973 and 1994. Each Prelude is dedicated to a great Pianist: Artur Rubinstein (D’ombre et de silence), Claude Helffer (Sur um meme accord) and Eugene Istomin (Le jeu des contraries).

Alexandra finds the form of the Prelude as relevant today as in Chopin's time and was drawn to Dutilleux's use of polyphony and harmony in his fascinating contribution to an established genre.

· Alexandra Dariescu is one of the most talented pianists of her generation and was featured as BBC Music Magazine’s Rising Star in June 2011. She has won the Guildhall Wigmore Prize and the Romanian Ambassador‘s prize for her outstanding contribution to promoting Romania’s image in the UK and is currently a YCAT artist.

· Highlights in Alexandra’s 2012/2013 season include her debut at the Royal Albert Hall (which will be followed by a launch event for this new disc), and performances at The Barbican, Bridgewater Hall and Royal Concert Hall.



 

 


Chopin composed his 24 Preludes, Op.28, one in each of the 12 major and 12 minor keys, between 1835 and 1839; from his letters it seems the bulk of them was written in 1837-38 and the collection was completed in the winter of 1838-39, which he passed at Valldemossa, Majorca, in the company of George Sand and her children as a refuge from the damp weather of Paris. The set had been commissioned (for the then-enormous sum of 2000 francs) by the pianist, publisher, impresario and piano-manufacturer Camille Pleyel (son of Haydn's star pupil Ignaz Pleyel), and was published in mid-1839 in two editions, French and German. The French edition Chopin dedicated to Pleyel, but the German one he dedicated to his friend, the pianist-composer Joseph Christoph Kessler (1800-1872). In 1829 Kessler had dedicated his own set of 24 Preludes to Chopin; now Chopin returned the compliment, and he arranged the tonality of his Preludes round the circle of fifths (that is, a double circle, each major-key Prelude being succeeded by one in the relative minor: thus at the outset the sequence of keys is C major - A minor - G major - E minor - D major - B minor and so on). This scheme is characteristic not of Kessler's Preludes Op.31 but of his 24 Etudes, Op.30, which Chopin also knew. It is likely, however that both Kessler and Chopin were inspired to create sets of pieces spanning all 24 keys by the example of Das Wohltermerierte Klavier by Johann Sebastian Bach, whom they both revered. (Bach's Preludes and Fugues are not arranged around the circle of fifths but in an ascending chromatic sequence.)

The radical brevity of some of Chopin's Preludes disconcerted many critics. Also, they were no preludes in the sense of an introduction to some larger piece, but rather swiftly sketched mood-pictures: almost musical snapshots, but complete in themselves. Robert Schumann, reviewing them, saw them as 'sketches, beginnings of études, or, so to speak, ruins, individual pinions of an eagle’s wing, all disorder and wild confusions’. On the other hand Franz Liszt recognized them as ‘compositions of an order entirely apart [...] poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams’.

In fact, though Chopin seems never to have played more than four of the Preludes at any one public performance, it is generally considered nowadays that he designed the 24 pieces to function as a unit. Though the individual preludes, or a selection of them, will always be impressive in their own right, when they are all played in order they become more obviously the phrases and incidents in a single large work, with interconnections both motivic and emotional that are just as important as the contrasts. And of course the double circle of fifths produces a highly organized tonal progression from the C major opening to the final D minor Prelude.

The range of emotions that the 24 movements span is extraordinary. None of the pieces is particularly long; indeed some, like the very first, are of startling brevity. A general miniaturization is in force throughout the cycle, resulting in curtailed forms and foreshortened phrase patterns. Yet the effect is not one of ‘scaling down’, rather it results in expressive intensification, as if each Prelude puts its own materials under a microscope.

Prelude No.1 in C major is perhaps the only one of these pieces which can truly be described as introductory in character. Marked Agitato, and lasting only about half a minute in performance, it is the ‘prelude’ to the remaining 23 movements. Its uniform triplet motion is reminiscent of Bach. No.2 in A minor is an immediate contrast, with its brooding melody played over murmuring left-hand quavers. Hans von Bülow, the pianist, conductor and composer who often played these works and attached nicknames to all the Preludes, called this one ‘Presentiment of Death’. No.3 in G major has a spring-like freshness, with sparkling, filigree passage-work in the left hand that Chopin directs should be played leggieramente (as lightly as possible). No.4 in E minor is as sombre as No.2, yet has a more funereal character with its descending chromatic left-hand chords. This Prelude was in fact played at Chopin’s funeral.

Prelude No.5 in D major is a very brief, mercurial effusion with invigorating ostinato patterns, yet again there is a descent into darkness when we arrive at No.6 in B minor (also played at Chopin’s funeral), with its grim left-hand melody (which sounds as though it might have been conceived for the cello) and its impression of tolling bells. No.7 in A major is a tiny mazurka that generates considerable passion within its miniature dimensions. The Catalan composer Federico Mompou took this prelude as the basis for his Variations on a Theme of Chopin. No.8 in F sharp minor is an agitated and technically demanding essay in polyrhythms of right-hand demisemiquavers against alternating sextuplets and quavers in the left – a real virtuoso study.

No.9 in E major (which von Bülow termed ‘Vision’) is a slow march, of restrained grandeur, expressing a great deal in a mere 12 bars. The next three Preludes are all in rapid tempi. No.10 in C sharp minor is another very short, lightning effusion, largely based on cascading scale patterns in the right hand. No.11 in B major is a kind of jig in continuous quavers (its wayward motion perhaps inspired von Bülow’s epithet ‘The Dragonfly’), while the tumultuous No.12 in G sharp minor is a stormy, chromatic Presto coming to a clipped and tragic conclusion.

Again Chopin works a complete expressive contrast with No.13 in F sharp major, which could almost be a tranquil nocturne. It develops something like a full ternary form, with a radiantly peaceful central section. No.14 in E flat minor is a grim and pugnacious exercise in unison triplet-writing, reminiscent of the finale of Chopin’s Piano Sonata in B flat minor. No.15 in D flat major, generally known (after von Bülow) as the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude, is the longest and most extensively worked-out of the 24, having a full ternary form with a central section in C sharp minor. Although the repeated-note figure in the accompaniment at the opening, which give this piece its nickname, seem gentle, they take on a much more severe aspect in this middle section. After six

attention-grabbing chords, No.16 in B flat minor launches out as a bravura Presto con fuoco outburst that has made it a favourite with virtuoso pianists: von Bülow dubbed it ‘Hades’, and it is perhaps the most difficult piece in the entire set.

Prelude No.17 in A flat major is another extensively developed structure, richly hued and yet never really abandoning the tonic pitch that tolls away in the depths throughout the concluding section of the piece. (Mendelssohn especially admired this Prelude, and for von Bülow it conjured up a scene ‘on the Place de Notre Dame de Paris’.) No.18 in F minor (which von Bülow called ‘Suicide’) is abrupt, cramming several large gestures into a small space, rather like a dramatic recitative, while No.19 in E flat major is another vivacious two-handed triplet study. Granite-like and austerely monumental, No.20 in C minor is an epic in 12 bars, its eloquent fortissimo opening subsiding to a pathetic piano iteration and then descending into the depths. (Ferruccio Busoni took this astonishingly concentrated utterance as the theme for his early Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Chopin, which he then completely re-composed in the last years of his life; it is also the subject of Rachmaninov’s Chopin Variations.)

The final group of Preludes begins with No.21 in B flat major, which like No.13 is essentially a nocturne, its slightly florid right-hand melody carried above a lulling quaver-rhythm accompaniment. Wrath breaks out in No.22 in G minor, another stormy, scherzo-like piece with thunderous left-hand octaves. Entirely different again, the charming No.23 in F major paints an almost pastoral scene (von Bülow saw it as ‘A Pleasure Boat’) with glittering right-hand semiquavers and contented left-hand melody – left open-ended as the music ends on a dominant seventh. The last Prelude, No.24 in D minor, marked Allegro appassionato, which von Bülow called ‘The Storm’, is seemingly a tragic, despairing outburst, but it makes a terrific, virtuosic conclusion to the set, the deep-tolling D at the very end like a funeral bell.

While in Majorca with George Sand, Chopin worked at but did not complete another Prelude, in E flat minor: the manuscript survives, but it looks as though Chopin definitively abandoned it and substituted the present Prelude No.14 in the Op.28 cycle. Two other Preludes by Chopin survive, however. The Prelude No.25 in C sharp minor, Op.45 was written in 1841 and dedicated to his pupil Princess Czernicheff: it is characterized by wide-spanned bass writing and poignant chromatic modulations. There is also the so-called Prelude No.26 in A flat major, which is actually a piece that bears no title, just the tempo-marking Presto con leggierezza. This was written on 18 June 1834 as a gift for Chopin’s friend Pierre Wolff, and was not published until 1918; it is a brief, ebullient semiquaver study.

Born 1916 in Angers, and a student of Claude Debussy’s friend Henri Büsser, Henri Dutilleux is a figure rather like Paul Dukas in a previous generation: a fastidious composer of almost aristocratic restraint, little given to critical polemic or to baring his soul in his music, and yet clearly utterly immersed in the actual stuff of music, its sounds and sensations. The effect, at least in Dutilleux’s later works, is often allusive, almost improvisatory, approaching that ideal of ‘continuous arabesque’ originally advocated by Debussy.

Dutilleux’s compositions include two symphonies, concertos for violin and for cello, Metaboles and other works for orchestra, the string quartet Ainsi la Nui, and a certain amount of vocal and instrumental music. He was a slow developer; the Piano Sonata, probably his first major work and also his best-known, dates from the same year as Messiaen’s Modes des valeurs et d'intensités, the piano study that inspired Pierre Boulez and other younger French composers to contemplate a future of total serialism. Dutilleux, by contrast, looks back to French music’s richly varied past – Impressionism, the wit and insouciance of Chabrier and Les Six, the exalted contrapuntal mastery of Franck, the discipline of the 18th-century Clavecinistes – and takes from it whatever combination of

elements he needs. This deftly mobile music, swift and fluid in its thought, weaves a richly colourful tapestry that is eclectic in its choice of threads but clearly contemporary (and utterly personal) in terms of pattern and effect.

Dutilleux’s Trois Préludes were not designed as a set but composed at intervals between 1973 and 1994. They overlap and follow on from the four pieces for 2 pianos composed between 1970 and 1976 entitled Figures de Résonances, and they had a slightly complicated genesis. The first and second Préludes were initially drafted in 1973 and were then entitled D’Ombre and de Silence respectively. The first Prélude was then completed as D’Ombre et de Silence (Of Shadow and Silence), and was premiered in Paris by Geneviève Joy on 26 June 1974. In 1977, the second Prélude was renamed Sur un même Accord (On the same Chord; apart from some of its techniques it is unrelated to the similarly titled Sur le même Accord, a nocturne for violin and orchestra which Dutilleux composed in 2001-2). The third Prélude, Le Jeu des Contraires (The Play of Opposites), had its origins in a 10-bar extract that Dutilleux contributed in 1987 to the 100th edition of the magazine Le Monde de la Musique. This was then developed into a complete piece when he was commissioned to write a test work for the 1988 William Kapell Piano Competition at the University of Maryland, and was provisionally completed in 1989. However, before the three Préludes were published together in 1994, Dutilleux added a substantial coda to Le Jeu des Contraires, making it the longest of the three. Each Prélude is dedicated to a great pianist: Artur Rubinstein, Claude Helffer and Eugene Istomin respectively. Though audibly utterly different in idiom from Chopin’s Preludes, they nevertheless make their music out of perennial pianistic concerns that fascinated Chopin just as much as Dutilleux: the phenomena of resonance, the polarities of line and harmony, the movement of the hands either separately or together, the patterning of figuration and subtleties and contrasts of pedaling and touch.

D’Ombre et de Silence explores the different kinds of resonance that result from different chordal structures, from close-knit chromatic clusters to more open, wider-spaced sonorities. An intricate grace-note figure introduces each group of chords, but towards the end of the piece breaks free and becomes a florid, faintly oriental melody in its own right. There is also a quiet gong-like seventh that sounds now and then from the bottom of the keyboard. Sur un même Accord, as its title suggests, is focused on a signature four-note chord which is varied in many ways (including re-spacing, octave displacement, the addition of inessential tones); so here too issues of resonance are paramount. The piece falls approximately into four spans. Between the chord’s appearances are other materials that articulate the tones of the chord into melodic shapes – free and flexible in the first section of the piece, staccato and rhythmic in the second, a supple, lyrical descending melody in the third, and increasingly virtuosic in the fourth.

The third and longest Prélude, Le Jeu des Contraires, is founded on the idea of contrary motion in many different aspects: motion between the two hands, symmetrical expansion and contraction of intervals, chords that mirror each other, and sometimes even rhythmic palindromes. Its expansive structure somewhat resembles a sonata form, though it could also be seen as a kind of toccata, a bravura display piece, spun out of a brilliant and colourful succession of episodes exploring its basic premise. A passage focussing on a single chord recalls Sur un même Accord and is followed almost immediately by a passage in clusters, recalling D’Ombre et de Silence. After building to a tremendous climax that seems like an enlarged recapitulation of the opening, the music subsides into a mysterious, fugitive coda and then finally whizzes off into the stratosphere of the keyboard.

Malcolm MacDonald


“Dariescu is a deeply impressive exponent of both composers’ work, bringing to every piece the lucidity and sensitivity it commands”

Stephen Pettitt, Sunday Times

 

“Each is a perfect gem, which Dariescu opens up, layer by layer, like a Russian doll”

Norman Lebrecht, Sinfini

 

“A very good start, and we await the second and third instalments.”

Stephen Pruslin, International Record Review


“She {Alexandra Dariescu} is particularly good at creating atmosphere through her sound which is cushioned, refined and beautifully balanced”

Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine

"...much beautiful playing with a great sense of color and touch."
"Champs Hill’s piano sound and production values are very good, as are Malcolm MacDonald’s booklet notes."
American Record Guide

"Each of the three [Dutilleux Preludes] is a perfect gem..."
"What is outstanding here is the piano sound at Champs Hill…"
Norman Lebrecht, La Scena Musicale

   
   

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