Debussy: Piano works (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano works (complete)
PERFORMER: Aldo Ciccolini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73813 2 Reissue (1992)
The Italian-born pianist Aldo Ciccolini has lived for many years in France and used to teach at the Paris Conservatoire. He has been particularly associated with Satie’s music, and his playing of Debussy suggests why. It is clear and light, with precisely pointed articulation, but not so strong in power of suggestion.

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Perhaps the ten-year-old recording, made when Ciccolini was in his mid-sixties, is partly to blame for a restricted range of volume, but even allowing for that, Ciccolini often ignores Debussy’s abrupt dynamic contrasts. The explosive chords punctuating ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ have only a moderate impact, ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’ lacks elemental terror, and although ‘La danse de Puck’ is beautifully balanced, it’s a bit tame, while ‘Minstrels’ is immaculately polished but too decorous, surely, to suggest the music hall.

The second set of Images inspires some of Ciccolini’s best playing, measured and melancholy in ‘Cloches à travers les feuilles’, composed in ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut’, while he certainly justifies the title of L’isle joyeuse, even if his impetuosity obscures its carefully plotted contrasts. Those are much more vividly recreated in Cedric Tiberghien’s recent disc on Harmonia Mundi.

No complete set of Debussy’s piano music is going to provide all the answers, but for fidelity to the score and vivid character, Paul Jacobs is incomparable in the Préludes, while Mitsuko Uchida comes a close second in the Études.

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The brief booklet notes in Ciccolini’s set of five CDs are in French only. Adrian Jack