SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

DEBUSSY: Complete Piano Works [Playlist Follows] – Walter Gieseking, p. – EMI Classics Signature Series (4 discs)

Now for the first time we can hear Gieseking's masterful Debussy interpretations as they were heard in the studio in the 1950s.

Published on June 10, 2012

DEBUSSY: Complete Piano Works [Playlist Follows] – Walter Gieseking, p. – EMI Classics Signature Series mono SACD 9 55917 2 (4 discs) *****:

This is one of the gems of the first release of the Signature Collection, remastered at Abbey Road Studios from historic original analog sources. These masters, including some mono 78s originally recorded with falling weights on the lathes (since they were more steady than motors), have been reissued countless times before, but never to 96K/24-bit digital using the latest gear, as was done this time.

Gieseking’s survey of the entire innovative piano literature of Claude Debussy was recorded between 1951 and ’54, and has also been reissued many times. The Abbey Road engineers compare their work to restorers who clean a painting by an old master to reveal its original beauty, and judicious use of noise reduction was used on these recordings without any damage to the actual music. The subtleties of Debussy’s piano music are so important to its effect, and we have never heard them before this on Gieseking’s recordings.

Yes, of course recent digital recordings of the music, such as those by Paul Jacobs on the Nonesuch label, have more clarity and spaciousness—partly due to stereo, but the Gieseking recordings are now up to modern standards and sound fabulous. No longer is the listener lost in the meterless, pedal-heavy mush of previous reissues of Gieseking, as well as some more recent Debussy recordings. Those who haven’t understood why this collection is so celebrated, or who object to the whole idea of Gieseking—a German—being the finest Debussy piano music interpreter, must hear this SACD release.

Debussy achieved a more kaleidoscopic mix of musical colors in his piano music than any composer has, and Gieseking brings them out with precision and clarity. He uses dynamics in the music beautifully—the wider dynamic range of SACD is immediately obvious. His articulation is excellent, and small details that were completely missed before now become obvious. Though recorded in the 1950s in mono, the technical equipment really was up to snuff, and now we can finally hear what was put on those original mono open reel tapes in the studio.

The lavish booklet bound into the four-disc set is complete with reproductions of the front and back of the first LP releases of the recordings, closeups of the original record labels, and shots of the original open reel masters and associated studio material. I wish EMI had included some protective sleeves for the four SACDs.

TrackList:
Disc 1: Preludes Books I & II – 69:48
Disc 2: Images I & II; Pour le piano Suite; Estampes; Beceuse heroique; Hommage a Haydn
Disc 3: 12 Etudes; D’un cahier d’esquisses; Danse; Nocturne; Valse romantique; Danse bohemienne; Mazurka; Ballade; Le petit negre; Masques
Disc 4: Suite bergamasque; Reverie; Deux Arabesques; Children’s Corner Suite; La plus que lente waltz; L’Isle joyeuse

—John Sunier




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