Debussy: Préludes Book 1; Images oubliées (1894)

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LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Préludes Book 1; Images oubliées (1894)
PERFORMER: Jos van Immerseel (piano)
The 1897 Erard piano on this disc probably sounds more like the instrument most people have at home than the glossy Steinway concert grand we’re used to in recitals and recordings. Its slightly nasal, stringy sound still comes as a bit of a shock. It doesn’t have the powerful bass or immense sustaining power of the Steinway, and it lacks the luxurious range of colours and the brilliant top register. Yet, if Jos van Immerseel is to be believed, it is in perfect condition after almost 100 years, allowing us to know what kind of piano Debussy had at his disposal. The least convincing pieces here are the ones calling for athletic rhythmic precision or those with rapid passages, like Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest. The melody of La fille aux cheveux de lin sounds a bit faint-hearted. However, the instrument does give the plucked sounds of La sérénade interrompue and the harp-like sonorities of the first early Image unexpected effectiveness. A welcome curiosity. Adrian Jack