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Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas in A minor K. 3 (L. 378), in A minor K. 54 (L. 241), & in C major K. 502 (L. 3)
Olivier Messiaen: Quatres Etudes de rythme: No. 4 «Ile de feu II» – Huit Préludes: No. 5 «Les Sons impalpables du rêve» & No. 6 «Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu»
Anton Webern: Variations Op. 27
George Benjamin: Shadowlines
Claude Debussy: Preludes (Book II): «Feux d’artifice» – Masques – D’un cahier d’esquisses – L’Isle joyeuse

Gilles Vonsattel (piano)
Recorded using the facilities of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (March 2015) – 67'51
Honens 201501CD

Gilles Vonsattel was a laureate of the 2009 Honens International Piano Competition (among other accomplishments). This is his second CD for the Honens label (here is a review of his previous recording for Honens).

Shadowlines is the title given to the disc, a title taken from the work the forms its centrepiece, George Benjamin’s Shadowlines: Six Canonic Preludes for Piano, a work dating from 2001.

While the CD’s works are not in chronological order, the first pieces, three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, are the earliest, and given playful, energetic, even insistent performances. All three together are barely 10 minutes in length.

The subsequent works all date 150 years or more later, starting with Claude Debussy, with musical approaches that are increasing indirect, if not elusive, as opposed to the vigorous forthrightness of Scarlatti.

A startling juxtaposition arrives with Olivier Messiaen’s ”Ile de feu II” from his Quatre Etudes de rythme (1949). Here the piano sounds like an eccentrically-tempered set of gongs. Abrupt transitions follow in the four-minute piece.

Anton Webern’s Variations Op. 27 contains three brief “movements” in its six minutes. Here again there are contrasts, from frenetic to shy. There is a perlescent quality to the pianist’s handling of the sparse notes.

Benjamin’s set of six preludes last about 15 minutes. The opening “Cantabile” emerges gradually as from a cocoon (or from the shadows?) Two other pieces are “Wild” and “Tempestoso”, although they aren’t as tempestuous as anything in the Scarlatti works. As Harriet Smith’s notes state, “the canons are frequently concealed - shadowy presences”.

The lengthier development of the two final preludes helped lead to the following two Messiaen Préludes (early works), then the four pieces by Debussy, works that very obviously influenced Messiaen. (And let’s not forget that Benjamin studied with Messiaen). The programming of the disk results in thematic cross-currents while, throughout, Vonsattel’s handling of the familiar Debussy works is deft and beguiling.

Here is a review of a recital Gilles Vonsattel gave in New York, featuring works appearing on this CD

Michael Johnson




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