Debussy, Chopin

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COMPOSERS: Chopin,Debussy
LABELS: EMI Double Forte
WORKS: Préludes, Book 1; Préludes, Book 2; Estampes; Reflets dans l’eau
PERFORMER: Youri Egorov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73656 2 Reissue (1984, 1983)
Debussy’s Préludes demand a great deal from pianists. It is not necessary to be a virtuoso in order to play the notes of many of the pieces, but formidable technique and vision are required to create the colours and capture the changing moods. They require attention to myriad details, yet an air of often skittish improvisation.

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Alain Planès offers many moments of sublime beauty in his new recording, but also some jarring miscalculations which stem from losing sight of the bigger picture. As so often, the simpler passages provide the biggest problems. Planès tries to do too much with the first piece, ‘Danseuses de Delphes…’, and ends up placing the emphasis on the wrong part of the beat. An inconsequential misdemeanour in many circumstances, but a grotesque distortion to the serene unfolding of this noble movement.

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Youri Egorov, who died tragically young in 1988, provides the opposite side of the coin to Planès. Always passionately aware of the whole, he is occasionally unaware of trifling details such as dynamics or rhythm. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to admire in Egorov’s playing. Few pianists are as captivating in the melancholic desolation of ‘Des pas sur la neige’, or as extravagantly colourful in ‘Feux d’artifice’. Egorov’s Chopin also impresses, particularly the Nocturnes. Walter Gieseking (EMI) is essential listening in the Debussy, but Krystian Zimerman (DG) is unsurpassed among modern pianists, fully justifying (but not excusing) the cost of two full price discs with no filler. Egorov’s set is a generous budget alternative. Christopher Dingle