Back in July of 2016, I first reported on pianist Jeffrey LaDeur’s project to prepare all of the solo piano music by Claude Debussy for performance in time for the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death on March 25, 2018. My contact with that project at that time was a performance of the twelve pieces that Debussy collected in his second book of preludes. This was an ambitious undertaking, as much for the listener as for the performer. Fortunately, LaDeur divided his performance into three sets of four preludes, providing some descriptive background material for each set. This made for a more palatable experience that turned out to be absorbingly engaging.
This past April LaDeur’s performance of that collection was released as part of an MSR Classics recording entitled Debussy & Rameau: The Unbroken Line. During his recital, LaDeur discussed Debussy’s admiration for Rameau’s music; but the booklet accompanying this recent recording delves into connections that are stronger than mere admiration. As a result, LaDeur planned the entire album around performances of both the preludes and the first Images book, which together were framed by two Rameau pieces. The first of these was “Tristes Apprêts,” Télaire’s aria from Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux. LaDeur played his own arrangement of the original score for this album. At the other end, the album concluded with the gavotte alternating with six “doubles” that Rameau included in his 1727 Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin.
The result is an album that offers itself for scholarship as well as musicianship. The question is whether, for those with a serious interest in listening to piano performances (and possibly playing the piano themselves), the scholarship makes as deep an impression as the musicianship or perhaps even should it make such an impression. As one who has tried to tease out the logic behind publications in both musicology and music theory, I tend to be drawn to such exercises. On the other hand, I must confess that I am so drawn into Debussy’s expressiveness than I am less inclined to “go down into the engine room” (as Peter Grunberg once described an analysis of music by Johannes Brahms) than I would be for many of his predecessors and successors.
Fortunately, LaDeur’s account of Debussy speaks very well when taken on its own terms. Where his Rameau is concerned, I must confess that much of my pleasure in listening comes more from the sonorities than from the structure. In other words my most enthusiastic responses to Rameau come from more historically-informed performances, which are less concerned with the theoretical relationships among the notes than they are with how those notes serve the acts of making music. Because the lion’s share of this album is devoted to fifteen impressively perceptive readings of Debussy’s “texts,” I find that I can be highly satisfied without venturing into “high theory” with gun and camera!