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Debussy, Ravel, Vuillemin...

Lydia Jardon, piano


Claude Debussy

La Mer, solo piano version
L'Isle joyeuse

Maurice Ravel

Une barque sur l'océan

Louis Vuillemin

Soirs armoricains

AR RE-SE 2001-1

La Mer...

This programme’s four musical works take us on an ocean voyage. A journey that begins at sea with La Mer (1903-1905), in the heart of a limitless expanse void of human presence. La Barque sur l’océan (1906), the next piece to take sail, seems no more inhabited than the first. It is only with the Soirs armoricains (1913-1918) that we come alongside shores inhabited by sailors. Our voyage reaches its end when we disembark on the Isle joyeuse (1904), surrounded by the swell of the ocean.

There is no lack of literature on La Mer. But it has never before been professionally studied from a piano angle, and with good reason. For this work is so specifically orchestral that its transcription into a piece for piano transforms it into an entirely different musical work, one in which the piano is the absolute master. Here, it is a question of a genuine transcription for piano, and not simply a reduction of the orchestra score, the word itself being far too “simplistic”. In the 19th century, four-hand piano arrangements of orchestral works, often proposed by the composers themselves, played an important role in diffusing musical works inaccessible other than inside concert halls. The arranger endeavoured above all to “cram” into four hands a maximum amount of the musical detail originally written for an orchestra, without seeking to adapt the piece to this single instrument. So one can well imagine that “to translate” La Mer for only two hands necessitated a different approach. Lucien Garban (1877-1959), who began this task in 1938, 20 years after Debussy’s death, was a past master in this exercise. Co-disciple of Ravel at the Conservatoire, and his faithful friend, his profession was corrector at Durand. History has never revealed Garban’s work methods, but listening to the result one can imagine to what extent he was familiar with Debussy’s works for piano. And be that as it may, upstream of the actual transcription work, he drew on the close relationships that exist between Debussy’s thinking when composing for orchestra and Debussy composing for piano.

Debussy’s writing for the piano is not an orchestral writing, but it frequently evokes (and virtually calls on) specific instruments: in many of his works, one hears the guitar or mandolin, flute, horn or brass instruments… Conversely, reading and listening to Garban’s transcription brings to mind, more than orchestral works, works written by Debussy specifically for the piano before or after 1904. The work on the tremolos, a style of writing so closely linked to the bow characteristics of chords or timpani rolls, is explored in both the Poissons d’or and Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest. As for the writing conceived for instrumental units, this is to be found in the chord melodies which are a signature of Debussy’s piano music. Certain themes in La Mer, when played with two hands, no longer resemble the orchestral version but seem to make direct reference to a piece for piano: the theme of the first movement after the introduction appears to be right out of a study; with its successive fifths, it positions itself between the study Pour les quartes and that of Pour les sixtes! The theme in Jeux de vagues is akin to the dance theme in L’Isle joyeuse (the latter simply being more piano!). There thus exist multiple examples that illustrate to what extent this work becomes a full-fledged piece “for piano”. Certainly more difficult than the others, sometimes even harder to play inasmuch as certain motifs written to facilitate the playing of a clarinet or a violin find themselves at the extreme ranges of the keyboard. When all is said and done, the listener should not be seeking to distinguish the harps, the call of the eight cellos, the extraordinary clarity resulting from the division of the chords, or the flourish of the brass instruments. It is a piano piece they are listening to, even if the performer has succeeded in firing their (re-)creative imagination to the extent that they are “hearing” an orchestral version of the work, enriched with all the colours of the varying timbres.

La Mer, not being written for piano, does not seek to portray all the movements of fluidity, flow, ebb and swell the sea can evoke. Ravel, on the other hand, in Une barque sur l’Océan, continues the fascinating instrumental discovery journey he already embarked on in Jeux d’eau (1901). But whereas these renditions remained confined to a fountain or a pond, here the composer has enlarged his space. Right from the opening of the piece, the rising and falling wave ushers forth from the major left-hand arpeggios, rendered choppier by the ternary/binary uncertainty of the tempo. Gradually, these arpeggios descend to the low notes, and the sonorous field of the piano envelopes the entire landscape, reaching out to the depths of the abysses, to the heights of the heavens. Swirling high-pitch tremolos are accompanied by the breaking waves emanating from even wider arpeggios, squalls covering seven octaves on the keyboard. The gusts of wind build up to near storm level, reaching fff, but the gentleness of the arpeggios and the resonance of the instrument itself restore the calm.

Evidence of human presence is not at all certain at this moment, the boat seemingly so fragile in the face of the violence of the wave, the horizon seeming so desolate, when everything draws to a sudden halt in the instrument’s high-pitch. It is only as this voyage continues that this presence expresses itself, with the Soirs armoricains. In this four-piece suite, the author has striven to increase the number of “trails” in order to enable the listener to follow. When executing separately one of the pieces, he even asks “that one indicates in brackets on the programme: SOIRS ARMORICAINS indispensable precision to the comprehension of the Music”. Louis Vuillemin, composer, musicologist and critic, belongs to the generation of these musicians born under the Third Republic, similarly to Paul Ladmirault, Paul Le Flem, Rhené-Baton and Louis Aubert, who studied music in Paris but whose creative inspiration had strong roots in their native Brittany soil. Ethnomusicology research was limited to Brittany at that time, and the Armorique recreated here is that which the composer bears within his soul, with its share of visual and sonorous impressions, one he transmits to us through notations highlighted by each movement. In the first movement, Au large des clochers: “Serenity of a twilight eve… The atmosphere’s endless vibrations… Sometimes distant, sometimes drawn nearer by the breeze, rumours whispered from land… And, after scattered tinkles, the discord of the Angelus…”. The piano’s challenge is to give life to this poetic world; it does so with the aid of known methods, proposed in an original form. A multitude of notes or chords held for a long time, often in the low register, the instrument thereby resounds to modal popular songs with a Celtic flavour; frequent contrasts between different sonorous movements solicited by indications such as “distant”, “less far”, “less close”, “sonorous”. The bell effects are already present in this movement, but reach their summit for Carillons in the bay. The initial notation is more succinct: “Rhythms, songs, carillons”. The composer excels here in making a few motifs, repeated in litany, swirl through the air, above which is heard the remote chime of bells seemingly conceived solely for the pleasure of the soloist’s thumbs, or multiple carillons, bells harmoniously ringing out their sonorous truth. Finally, the last movement, Appareillage, gifted with the same elements, brings us back into the world of humans, with a “lively, violent and determinedly rhythmical” tempo. Even more so than in the first sections, the piano’s percussive character blends with the potential of its very resonance, aided by the use of the pedal. But the expression is more intense and here the tension rises to a state of frenzy (a feature shared with the end of La Mer and that of L’Isle joyeuse). It is the relentless rhythm that brings this tension to its crescendo, a tension “always strictly within the same movement”. Even more so than before, the repetition of the motifs and peals of bells produces an eddying sensation, that of man’s unending task, as the proposed text at the beginning suggests: “The jetty. Setting sun. Strong winds. Rearing up beneath the first embrace of the wave, a hundred heavy boats head for sea one after the other in an endless symphony of noise, shouts and songs. Iron, wood and canvass quiver alongside human beings. Light. Movement. Strength. Joy. Life.”

For L’Isle joyeuse, our journey’s end, Debussy is said to have been inspired by the Watteau painting, L’embarquement pour Cynthère. Be that as it may, our vision is not one of a Mediterranean island. It was on Jersey, in mid-sea, the haven he chose for harbouring his romance with Emma Bardac, that Debussy composed the piece. The island resonates with music and instruments: the flute at the beginning is no doubt that of a young shepherd rejoicing in merriment; dance is instantly present with a jaunty theme of a communicative, rhythmic life. The sea takes form through the “undulating” accompaniment of the theme of love that rises like an irrepressible wave. The second half of the piece, successive bursts culminating in a magnificent crescendo, exultantly ends in the seething foam of chord tremolos, the same that conclude La Mer and which once again reunite these two works already so closely related through their writing…for piano.

Anne Charlotte Remond
Translation by Mirella Lamolie
M.L. Traductions

The Press covers it !

« In the last issue of Piano, le magazine (p.77), we were diminishing the scope of the transcription for piano solo of La Mer. Lydia Jardon, who records precisely this version of the music score (a world first), proves us wrong. Written in 1938 by Lucien Garban, a corrector at Durand, this transcription is not entirely faultless. Orchestra score in hand, certain details merit clarification and refinement: to cite just one example, the melody with which the cellos introduce the passage into D flat in the first movement (measure 32), performed by the left hand in the most elementary fashion, despite this being perfectly feasible. Lydia Jardon, in any event, meets the challenge. She brings alive this musical piece – among the most polished in the repertoire – with the utmost sensitivity, favouring moreover a controlled, retained expression rather than taking a gamble on conveying with just ten fingers all the lyric profusion of a full orchestra. Whereas the orchestral piece makes us feel the spray of the sea, sense the drunken roll of the swell, Jardon’s piano solo reaches out and captures the sound of the waves, in the same way the iodised tang of the sea is carried inland on the wind. Without any will, therefore, that her tour de force capsize the overall balance. Besides Une barque sur l’océan and L’Isle joyeuse, both infused with the same poetic inspiration, the pianist adds to her programme Soirs armoricains by Louis Vuillemen, again filled with coastal essences. The project stands out as much through its originality and consistency as the enthusiasm and poetry Lydia Jardon imparts. »

July-August 2002

« AR RE-SE (“Celles-là” in Breton language, “Those ‘ladies’” in English), is a new label proposing performances recorded by women. In this first disc, Lydia Jardon has chosen “marine impressions” centred around the transcription by Lucien Garban of Debussy’s La Mer. But don’t be expecting here a literal translation of the orchestral piece. The three episodes refer to the author of Préludes and, above all, of Images. Debussy in fact composed La Mer in between these two sequences for piano. Lucien Garban’s writing thus achieves astonishing parallels with Reflets dans l’eau and Poissons d’or which, notwithstanding the aquatic nature of the subjects, evolve with quivering sensuality and sparkling harmonic refinement. Lydia Jardon analyses in detail as much as she plays these three sequences. The Steinway piano will seem hard, notably in the treble range, but the result is one of striking clarity. L’Isle joyeuse and the Ravel piece prove to be an equally penetrating analysis. Lydia Jardon has a particular feel for the most succinct changes in rhythm, introducing the full resonance of the lively passages, perhaps also without engaging in mystery or too “prepared” a sound (see Benedetti Michelangeli). The Soirs armoricains, in which the pianist powerfully narrates the composer’s text, breathes with a fine sense of space in a subtle game of discordant harmonies. The virtually hypnotic beat she announces does justice to the falsely improvised esprit of these beautiful pages. »

Summer 2002, Stéphane Friédérich.

« In 1905, Debussy already produced a four-hand transcription of La Mer for piano. Three years later, Caplet adapted his friend’s partition for two pianos. Thanks to various recordings, these two reductions are relatively well-known with the exception of the version signed Lucien Garban in 1938. Considering the breadth of the original, adapting it for two hands is a true challenge… one that Garban took on in a talented fashion. Granted, it takes a few moments to adapt to this transcription’s foreign feel in familiar territory, but Lydia Jardon – playing here a recording first – convinces and captures our attention right from the start. The program, built around the theme of the sea, is as coherent as it is original. For those already familiar with her superb Rachmaninoff (Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2), Granados (Goyescas) and Chopin (Preludes), we can recommend that you place your trust in this French pianist once again. Une barque sur l’océan, swept up in one great intake of breath, without a hint of a lull, and a L’Isle joyeuse sculptural and deliciously dreamy (with, on the other hand, an overall shading we would like to sparkle a bit more at times), stand up to comparison with the great versions. Nevertheless, beside the transcription of La Mer, it is Vuillemin’s Soirs armoricains (a first recording) which provides the primary interest of this program. Raised in Fauré, Vuillemin (1879-1929) is to Brittany what Séverac was to Languedoc. Debussy said of the author of Cerdaña that his music “felt good”: we could say the same about the Soirs armoricains. The expansive, sonorous but also very listenable playing of the pianist does the rich and contrasted pages full justice (concluding with a splendid Appareillage!). »

May 2002, Alain Cochard

« As the organiser of the Woman Musicians Encounters at Ushant Island since 2001, the Catalan pianist Lydia Jardon, who we have noted for her interpretation of the Goyescas of Granados (ILD – Le Monde de la musique, January 2002), has devoted this new recording to the theme of the sea. Of Debussy’s La Mer, we are familiar with the short score duet for piano (in particular, that of the Crommelynck-Claves duet), but Lydia Jardon, in a world first, has revealed the transcription for piano solo of the orchestra score, done in 1938 by Lucien Garban (1877-1959), a corrector for the publisher Durand, who was close to Ravel and familiar with this high-risk exercise. The three pieces excerpted from Soirs armoricains by Louis Vuillemin, composed beteen 1913 and 1918, show us a musician in the vein of Paul Le Flem or Paul Ladmirault, precursor of Olivier Messiaen with an array of timbres and sonorous aggregates (“Carillons dans la baie”, “Appareillage”). The more traditional pieces such as Une barque sur l’océan by Maurice Ravel and L’Ile joyeuse by Debussy round out the recording for a coherent whole. Lydia Jardon not only gives us a breath of sea mists with her superbly suggestive performance, she also reads the texts that accompany Vuillemin’s Soirs armoricains. This demanding recording, with its original selections, is all the more convincing thanks to the natural quality of the sound. »

May 2002, Michel Le Naour