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COMPOSERS: Debussy/Berg
WORKS: 12 Etudes; Piano Sonata
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)
After the atmospheric earlier keyboard cycles, such as the Préludes and Images, Debussy’s Etudes can come as a surprise. These remarkable works show him leaving behind his pianistic impressionism for a more abstract musical expression. The first thing one notices in comparing these two new recordings is that Crossley takes almost ten minutes more than Pollini (50 minutes as opposed to 41), with the tenth study taking a full two minutes longer in Crossley’s hands. Pollini comes across as the more immediately involving pianist, though he misses some of the elusiveness of continuity – an essential characteristic of these pieces – that Crossley’s broader tempi allow. It’s a matter of personal preference: both approaches succeed on their own terms, though Crossley appears more in tune with Debussy’s real intentions. The recordings capture their respective instruments in different ways, with Crossley’s piano sounding crisper but more spatially diffuse and Pollini’s closer and warmer. The couplings may affect choice as well: Pollini’s Berg Sonata is slightly over-driven and lacks poetry, while Crossley, in the third of a four-disc complete Debussy cycle, includes a mixed bag of fillers – an Isle joyeuse overfilled with wilful rhythmic distortions and some more successfully played miniatures. Matthew Rye