Debussy Préludes Books 1 & 2; Children’s Corner
Paavali Jumppanen (piano)
Ondine ODE1304-2D 104:49 mins (2 discs)
A sleeve note tells us of Paavali Jumppanen’s ‘belief that a critical and an open-minded association with traditions of performance practice and academic discourse is necessary for an active relationship with historic music.’ Amen to that. I just wish this had manifested itself in him playing what Debussy actually wrote, especially in the domain of rhythm and tempo. Children’s Corner comes through relatively unscathed, though I really don’t understand why the snow should start its dance in irregular semiquavers, immediately regularised, or why the poor little shepherd’s solo lines are subject to arbitrary hesitations. Performances on piano rolls are notoriously unreliable over absolute speeds and durations, but reliable over relative ones: we can therefore trust Debussy’s own performance of this piece in which, whatever his true tempo, he (not entirely surprisingly) plays what’s on the page. Sadly, the Preludes here are awash with interferences, apparently with the aim of putting a personal gloss on what the pianist seems to regard as bald and unconvincing narratives. Dynamics suffer, too. There’s very little here of true pianissimo: one egregious example comes in bar 32 of the desolate ‘Des pas sur la neige’ where accents within pianissimo are played forte at least, wrecking the piece’s emotional architecture. This is just one of 28 crosses in my notes, quite a few of them double. I’m thinking of setting up a League of Art-lovers for the Protection of Debussy. The acronym LAPD at least gives the impression of meaning business.