Album Title: Debussy/Poulenc
Performers: Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello/Alexandre Tharaud, piano
Label & #: Harmonia Mundi 902012
Play Time:
Recorded: February 2008

Pairing works by Debussy and Poulenc may seem strange since Debussy predates Poulenc by 37 years while the latter began his composing career as a member of the Group des Six which regularly dissed Debussy's oeuvre. What links them is their shared passion for 18th century French masters Couperin and Rameau; and a certain charm and sharp wit that is uniquely French. Interestingly, Poulenc revised his opinion later in his life, became quite fond of Debussy's works and recognized in them a sharp reaction against the growing Germanic influence on French music.

Both composers sought to reestablish a unique French musical identity. Based on the small sample of their combined output on this disc, I'd say they were successful. Instead of the heavy mist and blurred colors which some see as Debussy's sound world (it is if you have ever heard Karajan's take on Pelleas or La Mer), think clarity, elegance and cleanliness of line all allied with a touch of irony, mischievousness and a cheeky wit. However, the fun and games can quickly shift to raw emotion.

These traits are clearly evident on the works collected here and played by two excellent musicians who seem to have absorbed this music by osmosis. Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud do not require introductions. Both have gifted us with a number of acclaimed discs in recent years, Queyras with his Bach Cello Suites and Dvorak Cello Concerto, Tharaud with his fine readings of Chopin and Couperin piano works. The highlight on the present disc is the clever, near effortless interplay between Tharaud and Queyras in the central "Serenade" of Debussy's Sonata No. 1. Flexibility, passion and wit join up in equal measure. The other pieces are hardly less interesting and consistently well played. It's a delightful disc and a must for chamber music fans. And as is generally the case with Harmonia Mundi, the sound quality is excellent and a suitably rich gently reverberant acoustic is very much in evidence throughout.