‘One must forget the piano has hammers’. Debussy’s advice to pianists applies to the kind of touch needed to play his music. That mysterious relationship between the way each finger depresses each piano key and the effect that has on the complex mechanics of the hammer is naturally important, especially when concerning the remarkable variety of the two books of Préludes. Angela Brownridge has moments that could provide a masterclass with careful control of nuance, the chords in ‘Canope’ seemingly emerging without attack.
Yet the hammers are all-too-present, and not simply due to some hard-edged playing, such as the higher bells of ‘La cathédrale engloutie’. Keeping rhythm supple is as important as touch, and Brownridge, though hardly metronomic, lacks the natural elasticity of the best interpreters. ‘Danseuses de Delphes’ is mannered, the fairies trip over their feet in ‘Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses’, and the chords in ‘Les tierces alternées’ periodically judder into each other like trucks being shunted. Her sometimes generous use of the pedal and the decidedly resonant sound, whether in stereo or surround, do little to temper the sense of Brownridge’s undoubted virtues shining only intermittently. There are enjoyable things here, but there are more compelling recent versions such as Francesco Piemontesi’s accounts (Naïve).