Debussy: Images, Book 1; Images, Book 2; Chidren’s Corner; Suite bergamasque; Deux arabesques

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Images, Book 1; Images, Book 2; Chidren’s Corner; Suite bergamasque; Deux arabesques
PERFORMER: Alan Planès (piano)
In 1904 Debussy acquired a Blüthner grand piano, a year before publishing his first book of Images for piano. Remarkably, having gone to the trouble of finding a 1902 Blüthner in fine condition, there is no mention on anywhere on Alain Planès new disc as to why this instrument might be especially enlightening in Debussy’s music. The purring bass notes are a joy to behold, while the upper register is capable of crystalline delicacy. Against this, there is a woody hollowness at more forceful moments, with a distinct ‘plunk’ to the sound.


‘Reflets dans l’eau’, first of the Images, acts as a marvellous showcase for this ear-opening instrument, with its wonderful divergences of timbre across the keyboard reflecting the subtleties of Debussy’s shadings. After this, Mark Swartzentruber is rather dull. Earlier releases on his Solo Records label have been justly acclaimed, and his new Debussy disc appears to have the right ingredients; a balanced programme, a broad palette of tone-colour, a fluid approach to tempo and an occasional dash of bravura. And yet, the result is indigestible, the consequence of over-indulgence.

The languid trickle that opens Swartzentruber’s ‘Reflets dans l’eau’, develops imperceptibly into a gushing stream only to become becalmed at the climax. Similarly relaxed, Noriko Ogawa (BIS) avoids falling into the torpor gripping Swartzentruber in the closing pages. His disc starts well, with an exuberant L’Isle joyeuse, but time and again he lacks the direction of Planes, or Ogawa’s lithe charm. ‘Soirée dans Grenade’, the middle piece from Estampes, is especially instructive. Ogawa takes significantly longer, yet there is a fizzing energy to her evocation of the guitar-led festivities that is entirely lacking from Swartzentruber’s lazy strums.


Christopher Dingle