Debussy: Images; Études

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Tall Poppies
WORKS: Images; Études
PERFORMER: Roy Howat (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: TP 094
Debussy’s piano music suggests a world beyond the instrument. Neither of these recordings gives it a chance, because the piano is placed too far back and you are all too aware of it in a reverberant empty room. Roy Howat is a distinguished Debussy scholar, and although his playing is scrupulous, his imagination seems disengaged. He takes the first Étude a lot more steadily than most pianists, and makes the least of its contrasts and humour. The next three studies show that a staid approach is his rule. Nor does he justify the general title of Images, for only notes seem to be in his mind.

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The Canadian Louis-Philippe Pelletier is certainly more brilliant than Howat, but so aggressive and heavy-handed it’s hard to listen for long. L’isle joyeuse climaxes in fanfares, but they should sound buoyant and joyous, not clatter angrily. For the best Études on disc, choose Mitsuko Uchida or Paul Jacobs, though the latter is only available in the USA. Adrian Jack