Debussy: Préludes, Book 2; Deux arabesques; Suite bergamasque

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Pierre Verany
WORKS: Préludes, Book 2; Deux arabesques; Suite bergamasque
PERFORMER: François Chaplin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PV 702101
This is not quite as striking as Chaplin’s previous Debussy disc (reviewed April 2002), which featured the first book of Préludes and L’isle joyeuse, but the music there is arguably finer. Chaplin seems to probe, to put every sound under close inspection, and in the Prélude of the Suite bergamasque he takes Debussy’s instruction for rubato as licence to loosen the seams perhaps too amply. He takes his time, too, over many points in the Arabesques, so that they sound just a bit self-consciously presented. But Chaplin does seem to be speaking to us. If he sounds as if he is feeling his way through ‘Brouillards’ (Mists), it’s intentional and the vivid and spacious recording does his sensitivity to resonance full justice.

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The benchmark for pianistic finesse and acute response to Debussy’s pictorialism is Paul Jacobs, though Debussy himself didn’t want us to suppose that he was inspired by his titles. I am not sure I would have guessed from Chaplin’s beautifully ghostly playing of the eighth Prélude that it was called ‘Ondine’. The study-like character of ‘Les tierces alternées’ is transcended in Chaplin’s treatment, which feels like an exploration of something mysterious, yet he commands all the brilliance and volatility you could want in ‘Feux d’artifice’. Adrian Jack