Debussy: Images; Estampes; Masques; L’isle joyeuse

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Images; Estampes; Masques; L’isle joyeuse
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1105
For many pianists, Debussy’s music is an ‘open sesame’ to every kind of colouristic indulgence, every spellbinding wash of the pedal, every ‘impressionistic’ blurring of the harmonies – and it can be very effective, very enjoyable, very sensual indeed. Ogawa, who can do all of that, deliciously, here takes a more ‘Classical’ approach. Sometimes the playing is almost Mozartian in its clarity, delicacy and impeccable sense of proportion. Sometimes even Scarlattian. She belongs more to the tradition of Robert Casadesus than to that of Gieseking. Her concern with line and texture takes precedence over the voluptuous mysticism which some pianists find in this music. For certain tastes, she will seem too cool by half. If Casadesus seems less so, this is chiefly because his dynamic and rhythmic vocabulary is more wide-ranging and he’s readier to let his virtuosity fly than Ogawa seems here. But this is very fine playing.

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Kyoko Tabe’s Debussy is far more sensual, though never excessively so. In the resourcefulness, range and extent of her pedalling, as in the suppleness and impressionistically ‘floating’ nature of her melodic inflection, she seems to me closer to the Gieseking tradition. But the almost relentless beauty of her tone sometimes threatens to homogenise the music into a kind of generalised style, soft-pedalling the extent to which Debussy was a revolutionary, fearsomely original and constantly developing composer. For this dimension, within a generally similar approach, I would recommend Gordon Fergus-Thompson on ASV, but the virtues of Tabe’s playing are many and various and I like this recording very much. Jeremy Siepmann