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Debussy: Préludes – Books 1 & 2

Vladimir Ashkenazy (Paladino Music)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
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Debussy Préludes – Books 1 & 2
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
Paladino Music pmr 0100   69:20 mins

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As a pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy has never seemed especially drawn to Debussy, and his reading of Book 2 of the Préludes, though recorded live back in 1971, has had to wait until this present release, where it is paired with his much more recent account of Book 1. There is a marked disparity in acoustic, with Book 1 recorded in a close studio ambience, while in Book 2 the piano sounds more recessed in a resonant hall, and with a faint hint of tape tremble in more sustained sonorities. But this at least lends an impressionistic sheen to Ashkenazy’s account of such evocative Book 2 numbers as ‘La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’ and helps him surge through ‘Feux d’artifice’ in a single sweep rather than a mere sequence of virtuoso effects.

But his preference for rapid tempos, as in his scrambled ‘Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses’, is even more evident in the drier acoustic for Book 1, where his hasty dispatch of ‘Le vent dans la pleine’ is further discombobulated by mannerist hitches and spurts in the rhythm. There is little true pianissimo to be heard, let alone that softness of touch Debussy’s friends recalled of his own playing ‘as if the piano was without hammers’.  In comparison with such fine recent accounts of the complete Préludes by Steven Osborne, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, or indeed such much-loved older recordings as those of Claudio Arrau or Paul Jacobs, it is hard to recommend this latest release.

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Bayan Northcott