Debussy Préludes – Book II; La mer (arr. piano duet)*
Alexander Melnikov, Olga Pashchenko (piano)*
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902302 63:32 mins
Prepare to be spellbound. Debussy’s Préludes have prompted some extraordinary pianism, yet this new version of Book 2 from Alexander Melnikov stands out from the crowded pack in this anniversary year. Confounding the norm of recording both books, presenting just the second provides a different perspective. Even more distinctive is pairing them with Debussy’s own piano duet version of La mer. Joined by Olga Paschenko, Melnikov makes a strong case for this being more than a curiosity or pale imitation despite Debussy’s uncompromising approach to transcribing his refined orchestration. There is plenty of awe- inspiring majesty and sparkle, and they whip up a bracing spray of excitement at the end.
Nonetheless, it is the Préludes that astonish. Playing his own reconditioned Erard, Melnikov draws an exceptional range of colours from the instrument. This does not sound like an old piano, merely a distinctive one in the hands of a truly remarkable player. In ‘La Puerto del vino’ it is as if he is playing and damping the strings directly with his fingers in evocation of the guitar, the fairies tumble and glisten like myriad bubbles in ‘Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses’, while each snap and crackle of ‘Feux d’artifice’ fizzes with energy. In Melnikov’s hands, the perfumed moonlit Indian evening of ‘La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’ wafts past the senses on the gentlest of breezes.
It is not only the individual sounds that impress, though, but also Melnikov’s ability to combine seemingly contradictory textures, with sharply drawn detail surrounded by a shimmering haze as if multiple pianos are being used. This is indeed compelling pianism.