Debussy: Préludes, Book 1; Préludes, Book 2

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LABELS: EMI Great Recordings of the Century
WORKS: Préludes, Book 1; Préludes, Book 2
PERFORMER: Walter Gieseking (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 67233 2 ADD mono Reissue (1953, 1955)
Famous since the Fifties, Gieseking’s performances arrived when Anglo-Saxons and Germans needed to find the ‘depth’ in Debussy. He revealed the Preludes in three dimensions: in plan, through the music’s form and cohesion, and by weighting his tone so that musical events registered on two or three levels. Chords behind a melody aren’t just accompaniment, they apparently occupy a different spatial position: listen to the end of ‘Danseuses de Delphes’ or the start of ‘Voiles’. If anything, this precision enhanced the music’s quality of affecting listeners like a visual experience, as in ‘Ondine’ or ‘Brouillards’. Gieseking’s way is the antithesis of the older, finger-driven French style. Full arm weight crashes around in ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’, and the explosions in ‘Feux d’artifice’ are more like volcanoes than fireworks. Still, these were landmark performances and they remain full of fresh perspectives. The freshened-up sound has a more intimate, piano-in-a-room character than many new recordings. Robert Maycock