The Unknown Debussy – L’Enfant Prodigue; Rodrigue et Chimène; Préludes, Book I – La fille aux cheveux de lin (1907 version); Préludes, Book II – Bruyères (1912 version) etc
Nicolas Horvath (piano)
Grand Piano GP822 81:17 mins
It’s disconcerting to listen to a whole disc of piano music by Debussy, where almost none of it is familiar in any form. True, there’s an early version of the opening of ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’, before Debussy realised that leaving the first bars of the melody unadorned was much more striking. And ‘Bruyères’ goes around the houses before settling down into what was eventually published.
Nicolas Horvath’s playing is more grateful and tonally limpid when quieter, but in louder, more busy passages it becomes congested. This shows especially in The Fall of the House of Usher, a concentrated fantasy on themes from Debussy’s unfinished opera; and in Un jour affreux avec le Diable dans le beffroi, also based on Poe. Florient Azoulay’s narration is suitably melodramatic, but much of the enterprise does not sound like Debussy. The ballet No-Ja-Li is more convincing in its pentatonic colour, although the material is spread rather thin.
Orledge’s note is enthusiastic about his work in resurrecting the music, but it’s the shorter pieces that sound most authentic. Toomai des éléphants, left unfinished as one of the first book of preludes, is cast in oriental mode, and the Petite valse is a delightful two minute visit to the salon. And when there’s more actual Debussy to build on, the music has a greater presence: an unused version of one of the movements from Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, and four fragments from incidental music for King Lear stand out. Interesting overall, but inevitably uneven.