The second disc opens with another collaborative effort, “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune” (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun“). While the piece was composed for orchestra in 1895, and became the basis for the famous ballet by Nijinsky, the two pianists pare it down to its essence here. Their playing is majestic.
It is little wonder that so many composers have cited Debussy as a major influence. There are probably 1,000 reasons, but just hearing Lubimov and Zuev play this music effortlessly transports the listener to the poem it was inspired by, written by Stéphane Mallarmé.
The finale is Debussy’s second Book of Preludes. Lubimov is solo again, on that elegant 1913 Steinway. The 12 pieces that comprise the second Book are as varied as those of the first. Debussy again shows that he felt no boundaries in his stylistic forays. From the opening, mysteriously haunting “Brouillards,” to the explosive closer, “Feux d'artifice,” the man was willing to open any musical door he was drawn to.
I am particularly drawn to “General Lavine,” which is the sixth prelude. It has been described as “eccentric,” which is as apt a description as any I suppose. What “General Lavine” really reminds me of though is some of the music that Thelonious Monk would compose 40 years later.
In fact, many jazz pianists have listed Debussy as an influence, including Duke Ellington and Bill Evans. In new music, one can certainly hear Debussy in the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, among others. Possibly the highest compliment came from Pierre Boulez. He once called “Afternoon of a Faun “The awakening of modern music,” and that "the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music.”
Preludes is a remarkable achievement, in every way. The musical choices and presentation are outstanding, and it is one of the finest of ECM’s New Series line I have heard this year.