Complete Works for Solo Piano

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Simax
WORKS: Préludes, Book 1; Préludes, Book 2; Children’s Corner; Etudes, Book 1; Etudes, Book 2; La plus que lente; Berceuse heroïque; Hommage à Haydn; Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon
PERFORMER: Håkon Austbø (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1251

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If recordings of Debussy’s piano music were judged by playing time, this new double helping from Håkon Austbø would lead the field by a distance.

The two discs are each filled to the very brim with goodies; the complete Preludes, Etudes and Children’s Corner not to forget various shorter pieces, notably the recently discovered piece Debussy wrote to pay for some coal.

Add the fact that Austbø is no slouch when it comes to Debussy, with a strong technique and many insights, and this looks like a strong contender. The trouble is that quantity, though welcome, is not the measure, and the bar is set very high in this repertoire.

Austbø provides much to admire, such as the jaunty middle section of the first etude (‘cinq doigts’), while including two equally convincing interpretations of ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ is a nice touch. The opening prelude, ‘Danseuses des Delphes’, sets the tone.

It starts as a relatively swift, emotionally detached reading, encounters an unexpected patch of warmth and nuanced colours, then coolness returns. At times this is effective, but Austbø appears to be undecided between attempted objectivity and allowing his emotions free reign.

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Austbø never reaches the soaring heights of Krystian Zimerman (DG) in the Preludes or Mitsuko Uchida (Philips) in the Etudes. No shame in that, but to lack the charm of Noriko Ogawa’s Children’s Corner (BIS) is less pardonable. Christopher Dingle