Classical CD Reviews

DEBUSSY: Preludes, Books I & II – Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano – DGG

Aerial acrobatics and pensive evocations of natural and Classical beauty abound in Aimard’s new reading of the 24 Debussy Preludes.

Published on December 22, 2012

DEBUSSY: Preludes, Books I & II – Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano – DGG

DEBUSSY: Preludes, Books I & II – Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano – DGG B0017386-02, 79:46 ****:

Recorded in May 2012, the Aimard survey of the 1909 and 1913 complete Debussy Preludes utilizes the Durand edition of Oeuvres completes de Claude Debussy, which purports to correct any number of tempo and accent errors rife in former sources for these scores. In homage of Debussy’s 150-year anniversary, Aimard’s sturdy performance catches the inventively mercurial sensitivity the composer brought to the world of the keyboard. A new plaintive mystery infuses Debussy’s “Feuilles mortes” from Book II, the wind’s impulses scattering leaves and memories to the far reaches of space. Wind as a motor concept finds a number of plastic expressions in these Preludes, opening with the Aimard rendition of “Voiles,” which could suggest its usual “sails,” or “furls,” or the oriental languor in dancer Loie Fuller’s silk veils. “Le Vent dans la plaine” employs ostinati against broken modal scales, a device Debussy favors, especially when the percussive element nods not to cymbals or drums but the Javanese gamelan. “Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest” is marked Anime et tumultueux, a clear “ode to the west wind” in honor of Shelley’s vision of simultaneous creation and destruction.

Softer breezes breathe in the perfumed gardens of “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir,” the second of the Book I Preludes. Aimard makes us wonder if Falla’s “Generalife Gardens” owe everything to Debussy. The air assumes a misty character in “Brouillards,” a forward-looking etude of sorts, almost a sly piece by Schoenberg that would rather ripple than creep or skulk in distant keys. The brilliant figures of “Les fees sont d’exquises danseuses” refines the air further, adding liquid pearls and refracted whirlpools that shimmer with restrained passions. A frustrated troubadour, courtesy of Albeniz, appears in “La Serenade interrompue,” the air redolent of wine and strummed Iberian guitars.

Air combines with fire in “Feux d’artifice,” the last of the set of Book II, a study in leggierissimo and glissando and wrist articulation, set as sparklers, catherine wheels, rockets, and patriotic snippets of La Marseillaise in one glassy alchemy. The patriotic motif has its variants in the other Spanish evocations, as in the jarring “La puerta del vino,” a habanera with a decided capacity for explosive temper. “General Lavine,” on the other hand, asserts the British musichall as its source for parody. The Mediterranean spirit moves to a saltarello in “Les Collines d’Anacapri,” in Aimard’s fluently clear textures, colors that dance in staid Greek whole-tone sensibility in “Danseuses de Delphes,” which seems chastely wrought when compared to Gieseking’s multifarious pedalings that could saturate even the first three bars of this piece. Both “La Danse de Puck” and “Minstrels” convey a boulevardier sensibility, the fleet sleight-of-hand juxtaposing staccati and lyrical gestures at once. When Aimard wants to communicate calm and serenity of spirit, he has “La Fille aux cheveux de lin” that hints at Robert Burns, not to mention Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones. The bells of Y’s always generate controversy in matters of tempo and dynamics: Aimard’s “La Cathedrale engloutie” rises from the depths in one continuous crescendo and plastic arch, a moment away from Mussorgsky’s Great Gate at Kiev. Ride the air currents with Aimard for a potent glimpse into the rarified world that Debussy evokes with refreshed energies.

—Gary Lemco




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