Debussy: Piano Works, Vol. 2: Préludes, Bk 1; L’isle joyeuse; Danse; Masques; Danse bohémienne; Morceau de concours

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Pierre Verany
WORKS: Piano Works, Vol. 2: Préludes, Bk 1; L’isle joyeuse; Danse; Masques; Danse bohémienne; Morceau de concours
PERFORMER: François Chaplin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PV 700031
How pictorially suggestive should Debussy’s Préludes be? Sometimes the music seems so descriptively exact that it’s hard to think Debussy didn’t have imagery in mind. But he did take the precaution of putting tides only as footnotes to each piece, in brackets. And then pianists with different views can still do the music justice. Francois Chaplin has his own way with the Préludes while persuading us that he has not replaced Debussy’s. This is some achievement. His version of ‘Les collines d’Anacapri’ is much less a meticulously observed slice-of-life than that of Paul Jacobs, so the piece becomes more inwardly reflective. Then Chaplin’s ‘Minstrels’, you might think, could hardly have survived in a rowdy music hall, they’re so subtle. And yet there’s an intriguing and deeply moving sense of mystery in both performances. Chaplin is also compelling in hypnotic pieces like the first two Préludes, and in ‘Les sons et les parfums…’ he creates an atmosphere of languorous stupor with astonishing control. His crisp articulation in ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ has a distinction of its own, while his right hand in ‘Des pas sur la neige’ is as expressive and tender as Debussy’s marking. The soft fluidity he brings to ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ and his subtle grace in ‘La danse de Puck’ are unrivalled. If his range of nervous response is not that of Paul Jacobs, his stylishness and sensitivity make for as much enchantment as Youri Egorov’s beautifully recorded version on Classics for Pleasure.

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