P0788. CLAUDE DEBUSSY: The Composer as Pianist, incl. all Debussy’s known recordings for Welte & Söhne, plus the 1904 G & Ts (w.Mary Garden). Pierian 0001, partially from Welte & Söhne Piano Rolls, 1913, from the Caswell Collection. - 750532163024
“Pierian could scarcely have made a better start than with the rolls that Debussy cut for Welte & Söhne in Paris during 1913. As with other composers recording their own music, I find him remarkably free, with plenty of rubato and pedal, and ready to change his mind about dynamics. We hear the soft, rounded tone we should expect from his compositions….”
- Max Harrison, MUSICIAL OPINION, Nov./Dec., 2005
“I can count my list of great composers for the keyboard on my fingers, with no necessity to resort to my toes: Bach, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, and Bartók. Composers make my list because, first, they show a new approach to the keyboard while true to the inherent nature of the instrument, or because they bring an existing view to a new height, and, second, they write great music for the instrument. Obviously, we don't have composers' interpretations until the age of recording. The Welte-Mignon system was the preference of many of these composers. Mahler and Granados made such rolls, as did Debussy, who, although he made conventional recordings, made far more Welte-Mignon piano rolls, in one 1913 session. The Welte-Mignon mechanism fit inside a piano - usually a Welte piano, but it could be custom-fit to others. The device differed from the familiar reproducing pianos in that it could reproduce not only dynamics but also touch and pedal technique, recorded directly from the pianists' actions. Different technicians in the modern era have produced different results. In this case, Pierian has used the talents of an engineer, Kenneth Caswell, who has devoted decades to studying the Welte mechanism. With his restored Welte reproducing piano, he has given the rolls a modern recording, and the results have won the imprimatur of Harold C. Schoenberg himself, formerly a severe critic of modern Welte-Mignon reproduction.
Given the importance of Debussy's piano music, as well as its popularity, I would consider this release one of the ten most important in the history of recording. You get an equivalent of having Bach play the 'Goldbergs' for you. Now, many composers don't perform their own music all that well - perhaps one reason why they're so eager for somebody else to take on the performance. Debussy stands as one exception. His contemporaries remarked on the individuality not only of his music, but also of his piano playing. What strikes one from the opening track, 'Danseuses de Delphes', is an extraordinary, even extreme, inwardness, practically a self-communion, as if the composer sings, or even hums, to himself. The first descending row of chords is just magic, raising the little hairs on the back of a listener's neck. 'La cathédrale engloutie' becomes surprisingly dramatic, with a large dynamic range, as the cathedral rises, apparently inexorably, from the sea. Indeed, Debussy at one point runs out of room: he simply can't get any louder. Debussy seems at times to call for a delicacy beyond the capability of fingers or for a piano which has no hammers at all. 'La danse de Puck' skitters around like sparks from a bonfire. All the playing, however, has a fabulous singing quality and steely sense of musical line - the sense that all notes, from first to last, connect one to another, as if the piano were really a string orchestra. 'La plus que lente' shows Debussy's debt to Chopin in its mercurial shifts of tempo and of color.”
- Steve Schwartz, Classical Net