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Debussy & Ravel
The Complete Music for Piano 4 hands

Stephen Coombs & Artur Pizarro at Blackheath Halls, London, 7 March 2004

Programme 1

Ravel Fanfare (1927)
Debussy Allegro, from 'Triomphe de Bacchus' (1882)
Debussy Prelude, Cortege et air de danse (1884)
Debussy La Mer (1903 - 05)
i. De l'aube a midi sur la mer ii. Jeux de vagues iii. Dialogue du vent et de la mer

Ravel Marche ecossaise sur un theme populaire (1891)
Debussy Petite suite (1889)
i. En bateau ii. Cortege iii. Menuet iv. Ballet.

Ravel Rhapsodie espagnole (1907 - 08)
i. Prelude a la nuit ii. Malaguena iii. Habanera iv. Feria

Programme 2

Debussy (arr. Ravel) Prelude a L'apres-midi d'un faune (1910)
Ravel Sheherazade, ouverture de feerie (1898)
Debussy Six epigraphes antiques (1914)
i. Pour invoquer Pan ii. Pour un tombeau sans nom iii. porque la nuit soit propice
iv. Pour la danseuse aux crotales v. Pour I'egyptienne vi. Pour remercier la pluie au matin

Ravel Allegro, from 'Symphony in B minor' (1880)
Debussy Printemps (1887)
Ravel Ma mere I'oye
i. Pavane de la belle au bois dormant ii. Petit poucet. iii. Laideronnette, imperatrice des pagodas iv. Les entretiens de la belle et de la bete v. La jardin feerique
Ravel Bolero (1930)

Note: Please excuse lack of French accents - they get lost in the scanner and are time-consuming to re-insert!

Very well prepared (all indications were that these recitals might be preparatory to a desirable recording project) these partners, who took turns at primo & secundo, were perfectly attuned to the give & take which is the essence of 4-hand piano playing, which is more often thought of as a domestic pursuit, rather than in a professional context. Additionally, Stephen Coombs & Artur Pizarro shared a level of easy virtuosity which made light of the difficulties of these mostly orchestral scores in, so I was assured, the composers' own keyboard arrangements*.

One is continually amazed by the power of popular music shorn of its familiar orchestral garb. The bones of the structure are revealed and harmony becomes paramount instead of colour. These consummate pianists however found colour aplenty under their fingers and varied the textures and dynamics from deliciously delicate in Debussy's early Petite suite and late Epigraphes antiques, and Ravel's Ma mere I'oye, to thrillingly overwhelming at the climaxes of La Mer and the Rhapsodie Espagnol.

There were rarities, a splendid movement from an uncompleted Debussy symphony and an early Sheherezade overture of Ravel which can retreat again to library shelves. Printemps seems to have disappeared from concert programmes; it went well in the 4-handed arrangement, as did (surprisingly) L'apres-midi without a flute. But Bolero, Coombs & Pizarro's encore, tested the genre farther than it could take. Ravel purported to be somewhat embarrassed that a piece "without music" should become so well known, and I never want to encounter it again performed on the piano!

These recitals evoked nostalgic memories of the pianoworks'99 festival, the last time Artur Pizarro (who has just completed his Beethoven sonatas cycle) appeared at Blackheath. There are rumours that this artistic peak in Blackheath Halls' history may be revived later this year. Bolero apart, these two Debussy/Ravel programmes were superbly conceived and balanced, and they would make a winning pair of CDs if the project were to be taken up by an enterprising recording company.

*The programme notes were completely silent on all that mattered, providing only potted biographies from the Concise Grove Dictionary; Geoffrey Collens is regularly short-changed for his sponsorship of the Blackheath Sundays programmes! Resorting to New Grove leaves uncertainties; some of the 4-hand versions seem to have been adapted by other hands from two pianos versions? If the hoped-for CDs materialise, no doubt all will be clarified in the liner notes.



© Peter Grahame Woolf