With the third and final CD now released the Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø’s epic undertaking of recording all of Claude Debussy’s piano music has been finalized. The standard of the recordings has already earned them international renown placing the project among the utmost of its kind in recent years.
Only recently did Austbø move back to his native Norway after living abroad since 1966, which was the year when he enrolled at the Academy in Paris. Later he proceeded to the Ecole Normale de Musique. He has also studied in New York, London and Munich and in 1974 he settled in Holland which has been his home, also musically; as lecturer and performer, up until his return to Norway. His French schooling and orientation has entailed a lifelong musical affinity with Debussy and in many ways the now completed project has been a musical meeting that was waiting to happen. So say both Austbø and the label Simax’s man in charge of the project, Erik Gard Amundsen. The first record, from 2004, features Debussy’s grand piano cycles written from 1900 to 1910, the second everything he wrote from then on, and the third comprises his earliest writing for piano.
With the completion of the trilogy Austbø is the first Norwegian to have recorded all of Debussy’s piano pieces, and already the project stands as a luminous edifice among international classical recordings. For what is brought forth is a musician achieving the ultimate aim of representing a composer and his oeuvre in truly new manner, with a possible impact on Debussy legacy. Austbø’s unique sensitivity and technical perfection has allowed him to open up dimensions to Debussy’s work, in his own description, in a very literal way: In a recent interview Austbø explains that “Debussy delineates a landscape to motion into, he is more spatial than temporal, and only in that three-dimensionality does the clarity and distinction of his music stand forth. When compressed and flattened in to a purely temporal unfolding these pieces give a different impression than the ample transparency which makes the music symbolistic rather than impressionistic. Debussy is full of sudden shifts and surprises, but these are more a matter of spatiality -things happening in different places at the same time- than they are chronological ruptures.
I’ve always been drawn to the lightness and transparency of French music says Austbø, but it is a sad misconception that this means that it is vague and in want of contour. Debussy is quite the contrary; razor sharp and crystal clear. It is a matter of how he has been played, and remedying this misconception has been important.
Austbø is one of Norway’s most accomplished and internationally renowned pianists. He has won numerous international prizes and awards and several of his recordings have achieved substantial international recognition. He has won several Norwegian Grammy awards, yet his renown has been somewhat unperceived at home since his activities have been centred in continental Europe. However, this is now likely to change, for the Norwegian classical establishment has seen the return of one of its finest pianists, and the Debussy Trilogy is a monumental achievement.