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Vikingur Olafsson's exquisite new album is 'music for all the senses' / 89.9KCRW - Rhythm Planet

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A few weeks ago, a new recording of Claude Debussy and Jean-Philippe Rameau works by Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson arrived in the mail courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon. I wondered at the pairing of these two French composers, who lived centuries apart. I know Debussy (1862-1918) well, but Rameau (1683-1764) not so much. Then I started listening. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

As always, I loved the Debussy selections, which include well-known works such as Children's Corner and Estampes, as well as his Préludes. On the other hand, I wasn't familiar with Rameau's works, but was stunned by their poise and beauty. Rameau was a leading music theorist and composer for opera as well as the harpsichord in the 18th century. I haven't particularly loved works by 18th century French composers, many of which I've only heard on period instruments such as harpsichords. But those same compositions played on a modern piano in the hands of Víkingur Ólafsson and well, it's a different story.

I read Ólafsson's liner notes with interest to understand his thinking on the pairing, selections, and arrangements. It turns out that Ólafsson himself didn't really discover Rameau's works until spring of 2019, as they were "rarely programmed or recorded on the modern instrument." He described his discovery of Rameau as similar to Debussy's experience when the latter saw a performance of Rameau's opera Castor et Pollux. Debussy called the music "so personal in tone, so new in construction, that space and time are defeated and Rameau seems to be (our) contemporary."

I hope you enjoy this album as much as I do. It is a terrific introduction to both Debussy and Rameau, especially the latter. Rameau's works sometimes reminds me of Keith Jarrett's solo piano compositions. If you listen to Bill Evans or other modern jazz pianists, you are hearing the influence of Debussy (and Ravel, too).