Víkingur Ólafsson: my Debussy and Rameau top five
In an exclusive playlist to mark the release of his album "Debussy – Rameau", Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson presents a selection of his favourite recordings of music by the two composers.Read more…
- Debussy • Children's Corner L 119 (113) • 1. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. Modérément animéChildren's Corner L 119 (113)
1. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. Modérément animéSergei Rachmaninoff (Piano)January 1921, Camden
- Debussy • Sonata for Violoncello and Piano in D minor L 144 (135) • III. Finale. AniméSonata for Violoncello and Piano in D minor L 144 (135)
III. Finale. AniméMstislav Rostropovich (Violoncello), Benjamin Britten (Piano)1961, London, Kingsway Hall
- Rameau • Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin: Suite in A minor RCT 5 • 7. Gavotte et six doublesNouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin: Suite in A minor RCT 5
7. Gavotte et six doublesAlexandre Tharaud (Piano)℗ 2001
Rameau: "Le Rappel des oiseaux" from Suite in E minor – Emil Gilels (Piano)
This is the first recording of Rameau's music I heard. I was about 20 years old, studying at the Juilliard School in New York, and somehow Rameau just hadn't featured in my otherwise pretty varied musical upbringing. It was also during a period when I was listening more or less exclusively to Gilels's recordings. I heard this recording and I just couldn't believe what I was hearing: for a Baroque keyboard piece it's so progressive and futuristic, so ahead of its time, so poetic. It’s the second track of my new album, but it's really a key piece for me and I think this recording is special. It's very, very different from the way I play it, but I love it.
Debussy: "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" from 'Children's Corner' – Sergei Rachmaninoff (piano)
'Children's Corner' also features on my album, although not this movement. But I love it because it shows this kind of Baroque, academic side of Debussy, with this clear rhythm and extraordinarily strong structure. But it's still all imbued with these very progressive Debussian harmonies. This Rachmaninoff recording is fantastic because he starts it off almost as if doing an exercise, but then come these incredible spurts of inspiration and this brilliance; and his way of making time sway and sort of break up a little bit is really genius. It's like one composer taking another great composer's work and reinventing it. But at the same time, I feel this is truer to the spirit of this piece than almost any other recording.
Rameau: Entrée de Polimnie from 'Les Boréades' – Teodor Currentzis, MusicAeterna
This is from Rameau's last opera, written at the very end of his life, and I chose it because it has this kind of timelessness. I arranged this piece myself for my album, calling it "The Arts and the Hours", and I just feel like it could have been written centuries later; there's this kind of expressiveness that seems so ahead of its time. The harmonies are as beautiful as anything from the Baroque period: there are these suspensions and this kind of longing, and lines talking to each as if in dialogue. But I also find a sense of tranquility and acceptance in this music, and particularly in this recording by Currentzis. His recordings have what we need to do today: absolutely no shortcuts, no compromise.
Debussy: Finale from Sonata for Violoncello and Piano in D minor – Mstislav Rostropovich (Violoncello), Benjamin Britten (Piano)
I thought it was nice to have another great composer of the 20th century tackling music by Debussy, who is very much a composer's composer. I remember talking to John Adams about Debussy and I think all the great composers at some point have looked to Debussy and learned something. Obviously, the way that Britten and Rostropovich tackled this piece is so different from someone like Rachmaninoff, and in a way they emphasize the classical quality of this structure; this is a wild sonata and they tamed the beast a little. But I still love it; it’s a great performance, with a wonderful balance between Britten's classicism and the slightly wilder, more expressive playing of Rostropovich.
Rameau: Gavotte et six doubles from Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin – Alexandre Tharaud (Piano)
This marks my second phase of being inspired by Rameau after discovering him at Juilliard – it was not so long after that that Tharaud released this recording. The playing is just fantastic. He plays very differently from me in this repertoire, but I admire it and I love it and I certainly take a lot of inspiration from him – and he is a very good friend of mine now too. It's an inspiring recording, so full of poetry. I want to say there's a rock'n'roll quality to the beat, but I think it's just so much better than rock'n'roll, so I have to find another way of describing it! But I think he must have been in a very good mood in the studio when he recorded it.
Bonus Track – Rameau/Ólafsson: The Arts and the Hours
As a bonus track I choose my transcription from 'Les Boréades'. I only make transcriptions if I believe something new can be said with the medium of the piano, and, even if a piece is already perfect, it doesn't mean that you can't find new meaning or a new sort of life in it. But I think it should never be a mere imitation, and in this case I thought it would be interesting to explore this piece with the three pedals on the piano, with all the kinds of dynamics that one person can control so that you end up with a sort of expressiveness very different from that of the orchestra.