Debussy: Préludes, Book 1; La plus que lente; Children’s Corner

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Préludes, Book 1; La plus que lente; Children’s Corner
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1205
These are fine performances of the much-recorded first book of Préludes. With every last dynamic marking scrupulously observed, and the warmth of Ogawa’s playing matched by a rich and sonorous recording, her generously filled disc gives much pleasure. Besides an affectionate performance of Children’s Corner, it includes a genuine rarity in the shape of a Morceau de concours written for a competition in which readers of a journal were invited to play ‘spot the composer’.

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Despite their plethora of expressive markings, Debussy’s Préludes contain virtually no pedal indications, leaving some aspects of the music’s sonority to the pianist’s discretion. Ogawa takes a decidedly Impressionistic view of ‘Voiles’, that locus classicus of whole-tone harmony, and the result is admirably atmospheric; but perhaps the two ‘wind’ pieces – ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ and ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’ – could have done with a touch more clarity. Certainly, the subterranean rumblings of the wind as it gathers strength in the latter piece carry more elemental force in a drier performance such as Cortot’s, or Krystian Zimerman’s dazzlingly virtuoso account for DG. In the end, what matters in these wonderful pieces is not just the detail of the moment, but also the music’s overall shape and character. To my mind the pianist who has it all is Michelangeli. His 1982 Royal Festival Hall performance is spellbinding throughout, and such moments as the magical evocation of a strumming guitar in ‘La sérénade interrompue’, and the sensuous sound of the melody that unfolds above it, are unmatched in my experience. Misha Donat