WORKS: Études; Images
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-83940-2
Debussy’s Études are the direct forerunners of those by Ligeti, so it’s hardly surprising that Pierre-Laurent Aimard, whose performances of Ligeti’s pieces are unsurpassed, should prove such a strong advocate for them. The earlier master’s studies for chromatic scales and for the ‘eight fingers’, as well as the piece called ‘Mouvement’ from the first Book of his Images, foreshadow the vertiginous, almost mechanical style of keyboard writing so strikingly exploited by Ligeti. Aimard not only dispatches these pieces with dazzling virtuosity, he also brings out all the richness and textural counterpoint of such seminal studies as those for contrasting sonorities and for compound arpeggios.
Mind you, he’s up against formidable competition from Mitsuko Uchida, whose version of the Études is surely one of the outstanding piano recordings of recent years. Where Uchida excels is in evoking the capriciousness of the scherzando writing that is such an important feature of these pieces. In her hands the brusque interruptions and tempo changes that punctuate the opening mock-Czerny piece sound wittier than they do in Aimard’s more sober account; and her slower tempo for the octaves study allows for greater rhythmic freedom, as well as more explosive outbursts of joy. But in the end it’s a close-run thing, and I wouldn’t want to suggest that Aimard’s performances of these endlessly fascinating pieces are anything short of masterly. It’s worth considering, too, that his disc, recorded with the same warmth and fullness of tone as Uchida’s, comes with the very considerable bonus of both books of Images.