Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Moura Lympany: Debussy’s 'Claire de Lune'

On 3 November 1952 Moura Lympany recorded the ubiquitous ‘Claire de Lune’ from Claude Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque (1890). It was released on HMV C4203 coupled with Isaac Albeniz’s well known Tango in D major arranged by Leopold Godowsky. An advert for the record appeared in the January 1953 edition of The Gramophone magazine alongside new releases such as Kirsten Flagstad and Gerald Moore performing Schubert’s ‘Frühlingsglaube’ and ‘Im Abendrot’ and Jascha Heifetz’s rendition of Saint-Saëns Havanaise Op.83.
‘Claire de Lune’ is the third piece in the Suite Bergamasque: it comes after the ‘Prelude’, the ‘Menuet’ and is followed by a ‘Passepied’. The original title of ‘Claire de Lune’ may have been ‘Promenade Sentimentale’ and the last movement was to have been a ‘Pavane’.  The four pieces were composed around 1890 but were not published until1905. It was Debussy’s intention to try to capture the ‘delicacy and elegance’ of the early days of the French clavecin (harpsichord).
Frank Dawes (BBC Music Guide: Debussy Piano Music, 1969, 1975) has noted that the title possibly refers to Verlaine’s poem of the same name ‘in which long-dead dancers in the moonlight [are] dancing forever to a ghostly music.’
Robert Schmitz (The Piano Works of Claude Debussy, 1950) has written that the most important requirement for a good performance of the piece is to ensure that ‘no bench-in-the-park’ be part of it. It must be contemplative and trustful.’ 
The contemporary 1955 edition of the Record Guide edited by Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe Taylor refers to Moura Lympany’s ‘quiet and lucid performance [being] in full accord with the title.
H.F. (Harry Farjeon?) writing in the same edition of The Gramophone noted above suggests that Moura Lympany has presented ‘Claire de Lune’ as a ‘calculated performance.’ He notes no ‘uncalled for mistiness or fussy romance.’ He imagines that the moon is ‘bien clair’ and that around it is almost as bright as daylight though more subtly charming.’ 
I have never considered the middle section of Debussy’s well-known piece to contain ‘mild excitement’ however H.F. believes that this is well-achieved.  But the important point is that Miss Lympany does not ‘hold herself back through any lack of generous pianistic feeling, only through deliberate reserve’. He concluded by admitting her ‘effects were a little posed.’ Interestingly the reviewer felt that the sound level of 'Claire de Lune' was considerably lower than the Tango.
Jeremy Nicolas (The Gramophone Awards 2013) in a review of the APR Recordings 2012 reissue of this record on CD, notes that ‘Claire de Lune’ can often lapse into sentimentality, and therefore by default implies that Lympany has avoided this ‘besetting’ sin.
This is a version of ‘Claire de Lune’ that I am delighted to have in my collection, in spite of any residual surface noise retained after transfer from the 78’s.
Moura Lympany’s 1952 performance of Claude Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ can be heard on APR Recordings APR6011 and a brief extract can be heard on the Hyperion Website

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