L'isle joyeuse: Vanessa Benelli Mosell plays Debussy

A brilliant disc, beautifully recorded and played

L'isle joyeuse: Vanessa Benelli Mosell plays Debussy

Steinway Artist Vanessa Benelli Mosell has been featured once before on Classical Explorer, a post on her disc Casta Diva (again on Decca). Here we have the second book of Préludes coupled with  the ever-popular Children's Corner and what I personally consider Debussy's greatest work for piano solo, L'isle joyeuse.

Photo credit Antonio Nieddu

Beautifully recorded, Benelli Mosell's traversal of the set is finely-honed, her resonance with Debussy's tone palette complete. In each Prélude, Debussy paints a self-contained picture; together, they form the most perfect whole. For some reason, Book II has always seemed less popular in terms of performances and recordings (archivmusic.com lists 92 versions of Book I against 76 of Book II, for example); one hopes that Benelli Mosell's accounts should go some way to remedy that situation.

One can hear Benelli Mosell's sense of atmosphere and perfect weighting of chords in the second Prélude, "Feuilles mortes":

The Second Book includes Moorish elements ("La Puerto del Vino"), echoes of Peter Pan ("Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses"), humour (Debussy's playful dig at the English in "Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq, P.P.M.P.C.") and, of course, some fireworks ("Feux d'artifice,"  the final piece).

Listen to Benelli Mosell's exquisitely-wrought trills, each a source of a different shade, in "Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses":

It is Benelli Mosell's chameleon playing coupled with a palpable sense of honesty to her interpretatios that is so impressive. Debussy's juxtapositions are perfectly honoured; try the move from the quicsilbver gestures of "Ondine":


... to the mock severity of Debussy's pompous bassline "God Save the King" in the very next Prélude, "Hommage à S. Pickwick, Esq, P.P.M.P.C.":


The opening of the final Prélude of Book II, "Feux d'artifice," requires tremendous control from the pianist, something found in spades here at the restrained opening, before the music sparkles. And don't forget that final, foggy quotation of "La Marseillaise":

Incidentally, this disc follows on from Mosell's recording of Debussy Préludes, Book I. Only the MP3 download Amazon link is given below in this post for that one - for some reason the compact disc of Book I is priced at £30.69.

Benelli Mosell's Children's Corner, Written between 1906 and 1908 for the composer's daughter Chouchou, takes us to another aspect of Debussy. From the "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" take on Clementi and Heller to the gentle "Jimbo's Lullaby," the fragile "Serenade for the Doll" and the delicate "The Snow is Dancing," Children's Corner is a delicious six-window view into the world of a child. Perhaps its very essence lies in that "The Snow is Dancing," and Benelli Mosell's performance is superb (it also reveals the fine recording; listen to how the slightly bell-like treble is caught so well):

It is a huge journey from the famous "Golliwog's Cakewalk" to Debussy's L'isle joyeuse, which takes inspirationfrom Watteau's painting Le Pèlerinage à l'isle de Cynthère.:

Benelli Mosell's performance perfectly captures the elusive, flighty element of the piece.

A quick word of praise of Nicola Cattò's superb booklet notes: detailed, knowledgeable and eloquent. I learnt a lot, and I am certain many others will, too.

A brilliant disc, beautifully recorded and played. Here is the full (seven and a half minute) trailer for the album, My Debussy Story: