Debussy Préludes Books 1 & 2
Rightly or wrongly, the expectation is higher for some performers than others. Pierre-Laurent Aimard performing Debussy’s Préludes is an exciting prospect. He already has an outstanding disc of the Etudes to his name, and his combination of searching intellect, attention to detail and exceptional pianistic control ensure that there are myriad insights in the Préludes. The slightest gradations of timbre and dynamic are observed throughout, allied to a broad palette of colour. He makes ‘Brouillards’ swirl unlike any other, with mesmeric eddies in the mists.
This is remarkable pianism. However, Aimard appears to be treating the Préludes as absolute music, with only intermittent sense of the visual. That works fine in some of the pieces, but this sober reading conveys too little of Debussy’s humour and passion, the clown in ‘La Danse de Puck’, or the uncontrollable storm in ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’.
The slightly recessed piano sound may exacerbate the sense of emotional detachment, but does not entirely explain it. The rhythm in ‘Voiles’ is perfect, yet this ignores Debussy’s instruction to play it ‘without rigour’. If this all seems rather negative, then make no mistake, this is still a strong set of the Préludes. Simply, it falls short of the truly outstanding performance that we have come to expect from Aimard.