Live review: Cedric Tiberghien, Debussy Preludes

Melbourne Recital Centre, July 10
Lasting impressions of a great recital

French pianist Cédric Tiberghien is the latest in a long line of illustrious artists to appear in the Great Performers Series at the Melbourne Recital Centre, which surely must be one of the country’s best-kept musical secrets.

In this 150th anniversary year of Debussy’s birth, this concert was a rare opportunity to hear both books of his Préludes played in one sitting. Despite loathing the “Impressionist” tag, Debussy was aware that his music had painterly aspects. He much admired the work of Turner and the sense of mystery his paintings created. The challenge for the pianist presenting Debussy’s preludes is also a painterly one – evoking a scene or mood through colour, texture and perspective.

Tiberghien is a master painter-pianist. He excelled in creating a vast palette of pianistic colour, delineating different strands of the musical texture into background and foreground and expertly manipulating perspective of tempo to suit the occasion. The result was an exhibition of 24 powerful miniatures.

Tiberghien particularly enjoyed the fact that Debussy was something of a cultural bowerbird, collecting musical snippets from countries such as diverse as England, Spain and Italy as well as the jazz-inspired popular music of France to create these works. Although Tiberghien’s considerable pianism was on display in preludes such as What the West Wind Saw and Alternating Thirds, it never overwhelmed the delicacy of the Delphic Dancers or The Girl with the Flaxen Hair. There was also plenty of slapstick in General Levine and the homage to Dickens’s Mr Pickwick.

The Submerged Cathedral was, of course, full of the Turneresque mystery that the composer so admired. As a friend said to me of Tiberghien at the end of the recital, "What an artist!" What an artist indeed.

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Live review: Cedric Tiberghien, Debussy Preludes
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