These pieces are the ones we started with in our piano duo activity and some of them have been part of our repertoire since the debut concert; from that time we have studied them, let them, picked up again, played and played again countlessly. Each time, however, they surprise us with their special combination of lightness and depth.
Their apparent simplicity should not be misleading because in them resides inexhaustible treasures of feelings, sensations and imagination
Certainly we love very much these pieces; perhaps because there is no trace of rhetoric and exhibitionism in them but each note corresponds to a unique and suggestive piano sound, every phrase, even the seemingly simpler ones, is revealed, once played on the piano, to be extraordinarily elegant and moving.
In each piece it is possible to discover new sounds and piano colors that make it different from the others; not only Ravel compared to Debussy or Fauré, but each piece of every suite compared to the others of the same one; the possibility of experimenting every time our musical and pianistic imagination is certainly one of the reasons that binds us so deeply to them.
Imagination! This is the key that has always guided us in the interpretation of these pieces and with imagination we suggest our listeners to approach this disc.
There are several aspects that relate the pieces of Histoires à quatre mains to each other; the most obvious is, of course, that all the works were written by French composers from the same historical and cultural background. In fact, only 30 years passed between the publication of Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite (1889) and the composition of Erik Satie’s La belle excentrique (1921). In between all the others: Dolly Suite by Gabliel Fauré (1896), Ma Mère l’Oye by Maurice Ravel (1910) and Sonata by Francis Poulenc (1918). Furthermore, the five authors met, frequented and influenced each other; it is in fact sufficient to recall that Ravel had Fauré as teacher at the Paris Conservatory and he was friends with Debussy for over a decade; Debussy and Ravel were among the first to appreciate the value of Satie’s music and that the latter was the model of the so-called Group of Six to which Poulenc belonged. So listening to these pieces together is a bit like diving into the history of French music from romanticism to impressionism and the first expressionist experiences. However, the fil rouge (this expression is just right here …) of French music at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century is not the only leitmotif of Histoires à quatre mains; in fact, we believe that these pieces all have a common feature in the narrative and imaginative inspiration, in wanting to tell a story, to describe with music an atmosphere linked to a particular situation, a poem, a painting or a tender childhood memory.
This feature is evident in Ma Mère l’Oye, the suite published by Ravel in 1910 that opens the disc. Originally composed for four-hands piano and subsequently expanded and transcribed for orchestra, the suite consists of five pieces inspired by as many children’s fairy tales. The first two pieces (Pavane de la Belle ou bois dormant and Petit Poucet) draw inspiration directly from the homonymous collection of fairy tales by Charles Perrault (1628-1703), while Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes is inspired by the fairy tale Serpentine Vert by Madame d’Aulnoy (1650 – 1705), and Les entretiens de la Belle et de la bête refers to the fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711 – 1780); only the last piece, Le jardin féerique, has no specific counterpart in fairytale literature, but is inspired by the archetype of the enchanted garden. Ravel’s style in this suite is much simpler than that of his most famous solo pieces but miraculously these few notes arouse a richness of colors and atmospheres that have always fascinated even the greatest virtuosos of the keyboard and which evoke in an unsurpassed way the dreamy world of fairy tales.
Dolly, the Suite op. 56 by Gabriel Fauré, is inspired by the enchantment of the world of childhood and the six pieces that compose it admirably capture those moments of ineffable poetry that characterize it. Berceuse, which opens the suite, was dedicated to the daughter of a friend, affectionately called Dolly, hence the title of the collection, as a gift for her first birthday and musically conveys the sweetness of falling asleep of a newborn in its crib. Second piece, Mi-a-ou, was written for Dolly’s second birthday and the curious title suggests multiple motivations. It is customary to interpret it as a miniature dedicated to the family cat and the trend of the music seems to confirm the feline inspiration; however historians report that the title refers rather to the child’s attempts to pronounce the name of her older brother Raoul: Messieu Aoul crippled in Miaou, without dashes. In this case the responsibility for the misunderstanding would lie with Julien Hamelle. But we are pianists, not musicologists, and we confess that we cannot resist the temptation to imagine a cat and its characteristic movements while playing this beautiful piece! Le jardin de Dolly is one of the most fascinating pieces of the collection with its sweet melody accompanied by harmonies of rare beauty and a clear and natural counterpoint; it was composed as a New Year’s Eve gift of Dolly’s third year. With the fourth piece, the imagination is once again inspired by the world of pets, this time bringing together pianists and musicologists: Kitty-Valse, actually Ketty-Valse as it appears in the manuscript, portrays the lively affection of Dolly’s pet dog ( without taking anything away from the innate grace of cats, as passionate dog lovers we cannot hide that it is one of our favorite pieces … ). Tendresse is another moment of great lyrical momentum combined with a profound harmonic research that brings it closer to the more mature nocturnes of its author; in the central part the dialogue between the voices suggests the mixed emotion of nostalgia and happiness with which an adult remembers his own childhood reflected in the dreams of a child. The suite ends with Le pas espagnol, a lively and picturesque piece of Spanish color, in the wake of the famous piece España of his friend Emmanuel Chabrier.
Debussy’s imagination in the Petite Suite is inspired by poetry and the first pieces that compose it, En bateau and Cortège, share the title with two poems from the Fêtes Galantes collection by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). The general atmosphere of the music is not far from that of Ravel’s suite because the imagined world is an 18th century fairy suspended between dream and reality. Third piece, Menuet, refers both in title and in the characteristic beginning inspired by birdsong to the masterpieces by Couperin and Rameau, while in the last piece, Ballet, the elegant opening dance cannot fail to succumb to the temptation of transforming itself into an enthralling waltz in the very lively finale. In its richness of colors and musical images often superimposed and taken up during the pieces, and in the happiness of the piano solutions adopted, the Petite Suite is certainly one of the most fascinating compositions by Claude Debussy.
La belle excentrique was composed by Erik Satie following the request of the avant-garde dancer Caryathis, for a show in which some of the most important intellectuals and artists of the time collaborated, including Jean Cocteau. Satie initially thought of composing a sort of tour through three decades of Parisian entertainment music (1900-1910-1920); in fact, the pieces in the suite are actually three: Marche Franco-Lunaire, Valse du “Mysterieux basier dans l’oeil” and Cancan Grand-Mondain; the fourth piece, on this disc placed before the others, Grande Ritournelle, was introduced later as an interlude to allow the dancer to change clothes between one dance and another. Satie’s imagination is incredibly rich and following the music through the succession of cake-walk, march, waltz and can-can, is a bit like watching a phantasmagoric film by Georges Méliès, suspended between illusion and irony.
The Sonata by Francis Poulenc, despite being the work of the youngest of the five composers, follows a more conventional structure in three movements, but also here the protagonist is the evocative capacity of the sonority of the piano; the fortissimo is suddenly followed by the pianissimo, while the lush chords of more then ten notes are followed by ethereal melodies suspended in the high register. In the second movement the melody of a radiant nursery rhyme appears and it evokes a childhood memory between joy and melancholy, while in the third piece the initial rhythmic pulsation returns more and more enthralling and obsessive until the swirling finale.
Album Notes by
Luca A.M Colombo e Sugiko Chinen
Luca Arnaldo Maria Colombo e Sugiko Chinen started performing as a piano duet in 1995 in Milan. Since then, they have given recitals across many European coun-tries, including Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Poland, Norway and Czech Republic, as well as in Japan, taking part to numerous international festivals and events. Deeply influenced by cultural backgrounds as different as Italy and Japan, they have developed a unique artistic sensitivity in their four-hand piano performances that have been acclaimed by the critics and the public likewise. Through a rigorous and meticoulous study of the musi-cal score, Luca and Sugiko have achieved a profound un-derstanding of the music that results in a singing sound, in a novel but rigorous phrasing and in a wide range of sonorities, from the delicate “pianissimo” to orchestral “fortissimo”. This richness of timbre, the elegant musical phrasing and the delicate nuances represent the most distinctive features of their appreciated pianistic style. After devoting themselves to performing 19th and 20th century Italian and French four hands piano scores, Luca and Sugiko have extended their repertoire to include the Viennese Classicism (Mozart, Schubert Czerny ), the North European Romanticism (Schumann and Grieg) and the great composers of the second half of the 20th century ( Poulenc, Rota, Nakada and Piazzolla ), focusing on the greatest masterpieces of each of the above com-posers to achieve the best interpretative results.
Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.
Erik Satie: (b Honfleur, 17 May 1866; d Paris, 1 July 1925). French composer. He was an iconoclast, a man of ideas who looked constantly towards the future. Debussy christened him ‘the precursor’ because of his early harmonic innovations, though he surpassed his friend’s conception of him by anticipating most of the ‘advances’ of 20th-century music – from organized total chromaticism to minimalism. To some extent he made a virtue of his technical limitations, but his painstaking quest for perfection in simplicity, coupled with his ironic wit and his shrewd awareness of developments in other fields of contemporary art, made him the personification of the wartime esprit nouveau in France.
Francis Poulenc: (b Paris, 7 Jan 1899; d Paris, 30 Jan 1963). French composer and pianist. During the first half of his career the simplicity and directness of his writing led many critics away from thinking of him as a serious composer. Gradually, since World War II, it has become clear that the absence from his music of linguistic complexity in no way argues a corresponding absence of feeling or technique; and that while, in the field of French religious music, he disputes supremacy with Messiaen, in that of the mélodie he is the most distinguished composer since the death of Fauré.
Gabriel Fauré: (b Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; d Paris, 4 Nov 1924). French composer, teacher, pianist and organist. The most advanced composer of his generation in France, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th-century composers. His harmonic and melodic innovations also affected the teaching of harmony for later generations.
Maurice Ravel (b Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, 7 March 1875; d Paris, 28 Dec 1937). French composer. He was one of the most original and sophisticated musicians of the early 20th century. His instrumental writing – whether for solo piano, for ensemble or for orchestra – explored new possibilities, which he developed at the same time as (or even before) his great contemporary Debussy, and his fascination with the past and with the exotic resulted in music of a distinctively French sensibility and refinement.