Debussy: Preludes, Book 1; Preludes, Book 2

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Preludes, Book 1; Preludes, Book 2
PERFORMER: Francois-Joel Thiollier (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553293
Debussy’s piano music should be melting but clear. In the Preludes, the instrument should dissolve as we are drawn into a fathomless imaginative world of evocations beyond it. The Naxos disc is a great disappointment in this respect, because the sound is recessed, and you are conscious the whole time of a big grand piano which sounds as if it is several yards away in a big empty studio. The effect is cold and alienating: though Thiollier’s playing is of a decent standard, and bold in pieces like ‘La Puerta del Vino’ or ‘Feux d’artifice’, it is not poetically penetrating. ‘Des pas sur la neige’, for instance, makes very little impression at all.


Although the Preludes are standard repertoire, good versions are not plentiful on CD, so there’s all the more reason to applaud the reissue of Friedrich Gulda’s revelatory 1955 recording among Philips’s Great Pianists of the 20th Century. The most impressive recent recording is Krystian Zimerman’s on DG, though his sharp characterisations are not to everyone’s taste.


The sound on Jean-Louis Haguenauer’s disc is pretty well ideal, though the music is all simpler, more linear than the Preludes, and includes several of the miscellaneous early pieces sometimes heard as encores. Haguenauer’s approach is lucid and restrained. In the first Arabesque he is perhaps a bit earthbound, and his deliberate tempo in the Prelude of Suite bergamasque is, to say the least, unusual. Adrian Jack