DEBUSSY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC Renewing the French Vision
The French are always distrustful of interpretations of their own composers by "foreigners". (Let's not mention that Germans, who don't give a damn about us when it's a matter of Kultur, or the Italians with I Pagliacci at La Scala, or the English when one pours milk in their tea, etc., etc.) Nevertheless, it's these same English who made us rediscover Berlioz and even Fauré, and the Yanks who have cornered the market on some very good French conductors or composers such as Darius Milhaud, who had his greatest successes and his greatest influences outside our country especially.
But enough of these generalities. It is Judith Aller, a violinist little known here in France, who is my subject today. I'm sure you don't recognize her name. (I seem to remember having mentioned meeting her some years ago.) Judith studied with Jascha Heifetz, began her career in Finland in the seventies, was married to the late American writer Bruce Alexander Cook, a novelist and essayist who, under the name of Bruce Alexander, wrote mystery novels about the English judge Sir John Fielding (published by 10/18 in French), books, which, inexplicably, have disappeared from French bookstores (you can find secondhand copies on the internet.) Run to get them, you won't be sorry, send a sharp letter to 10/18 (I must have missed one or two of them myself). As we say, opportunity makes a thief, so I'm glad for the chance to talk about Bruce Alexander, but it's really about Judith that I wish to write.
Although I have many CDs by Judith Aller, as far as I know only one is available, Archangel! (on amazon.com). It's a collection of Corelli sonatas and a variation on Corelli by Fritz Kreisler. It is Kreisler more than Heifetz who brings out Judith's style of playing: firm and virile, yet at the same time engaging and assuredly romantic, in short, far from the style of certain weirdish posseurs or highly educated shrinking violets who play all the notes -- and who seem self-satisfied with their technique.
Judith Aller also has recorded a CD that highlights Pirastro strings in the works of Bartόk, Kreisler, Ginastera, Heifetz, and Achron, but you won't find it for sale.
A little while ago I received a CD -- also not for sale -- recorded live at a rehearsal before a concert in Los Angeles by a quartet that Judith formed. One astonishing, even explosive interpretation of Debussy's [String Quartet in g minor], far from the polite sweetness in the French style, was played with a gripping, and beautiful openness of sound; its dramatic elements remind us of Pelléas et Mélisande, rather than Nuages. We often forget that three of the movements are particularly explicit (Spirited and very decidedly -- very rhythmic -- Most undulating ). It's this free spirit that you discover in this earthy and amazing interpretation not lacking in lyricism (the second theme of the second movement). It is a truly expressive and stylistic tempest (the quartet dates from 1892) and, in some way, opens the door to the 20th Century. The only pause in the piece, the slow movement, is earthier and more sensual than the usual interpretation before a final movement that progressively bursts forth brightly and should win over an audience at a public playing.
We are surprised and astonished, we are convinced. No one knows what Debussy would have thought of it, but we can only regret that there is no recording of this work available in this interpretation. I would really love certain quartets that are too traditional and cautious today to hear it played this way. I'm sure it would be a smashing success.
Friends who love to be challenged and who delight in joyous and shared surprises, I greet you Debussyingly and Allerhappily.
Henri-Claude Fantapié -- Chef d'orchestre et compositeur English translation by Harold Bordwell
Engineered by Terry Becker Recorded at Los Angeles Valley College (2003) painting by Joe Garnett