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Valery Gergiev: LSO

Gergiev and Debussy make a very interesting combination. Debussy is considered to be the greatest French composer of the 20th Century and his music the embodiment of the French aesthetic. But Russian influences are strong.

Debussy's early studies were at the Paris conservatoire, but he despised the rigid orthodoxies of the Academy . The Academicians in their turn considered him a dangerous fanatic.

A turning point in his life came when the wealthy Russian widow Nadezhda von Meck hired him to tutor her children. Von Meck was the patroness of Tchaikovsky and introduced the young composer to Russian society and Russian music. In return Debussy taught her children and cooked her the perfect casserole. Debussy’s wandering eye was well known – another source of discord between the composer and the Academicians – but whether his relationship with von Meck extended beyond the creation of casseroles has never been established. 

If von Meck was the catalyst for Debussy’s interest in Russian music his relationship with the socialite Emma Bardac - who also shared her favours with Fauré - was the next stage. Bardac was an accomplished singer with a fondness for Mussorgsky. ‘Boris Gudonov’ had a profound effect on the development of Debussy’s later compositional style.

The three works on this disc mark the pivotal points in Debussy’s compositional career. The ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune’ had a difficult birth but – courtesy of a controversial Nijinsky choreography for the Ballets Russes - gave Debussy international recognition. ‘La Mer’ had an equally controversial start to life. A Boston critic dubbed it ‘Mal de Mer’ (Seasick). The world now knows better. Debussy’s last orchestral work ‘Jeux’ was commissioned by Diaghilev and premiered only a short time before the ‘Rite of Spring’ another Diaghilev commission. Bad timing perhaps?

Gergiev began his tenure as LSO music director with a series of concerts featuring the works of Debussy, Stravinsky and Prokoviev. When asked to explain the choice of composers his reply was simple: ‘They have so much in common’.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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