Debussy: Piano Music, Vol. 4: 12 Études; Étude retrouvée; 6 Épigraphes antiques; Intermède; Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Piano Music, Vol. 4: 12 Études; Étude retrouvée; 6 Épigraphes antiques; Intermède; Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano)


Having passed the midpoint of their respective Debussy cycles, the respective characteristics of these pianists in this repertoire are firmly established, even if they still manage a few surprises. Like his previous releases, Pascal Rogé’s Third volume contains plenty of poetic touches and refined playing. His strength is the warmth of sound, captured admirably by Onyx, and a fine palette of colour. The trouble is that this is Debussy as we might want him to sound, rather than how he actually is. There may be a beguiling tone to ‘Reflets dans l’eau’, but the soft-focus seems pallid alongside Noriko Ogawa (BIS). There is little to scare the horses here, but, by the same token, the performances do not linger for long in the mind once the music stops. With numerous individual pieces to fit around the large cycles, programming is a key consideration in any traversal of Debussy’s piano music, and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s highly imaginative groupings and juxtapositions are emerging as one of the key strengths of his series. He has also reached his third offering and this delightful disc places Debussy’s two most modest cycles (Children’s Corner and Suite bergamasque) within a broadly chronological sequence of pieces spanning the composer’s career. As such it would make an excellent introduction both to the essentials of Debussy’s piano writing and the extraordinary evolution in style. Bavouzet is an engaging guide on this journey from salon works such as the Danse bohémienne, Deux Arabesques and Mazurka to the late Élégie, which here sounds not so distant in spirit from Schoenberg. He may not quite match Ogawa’s wit and charm in Children’s Corner (BIS), with the child in ‘Dr Gradus ad Parnassum’ seeming to be hyperactive rather than a daydreamer, but these are spirited and enjoyable performances of the highest order. Ogawa’s exceptionally well-filled disc is firmly immersed in the transcendent sounds of Debussy’s final years, with the Études and Six épigraphes antiques providing the bulk of a predictably mastery recital. It is a bit of a shock, then, to be confronted in the midst of all this by a relatively mundane work from a different composer and era. Yes, the composer may still have been Debussy, but the ‘Intermède’ (a transcription from his early Piano Trio) feels very uncouth in this rarefied company. Ogawa does not quite match her usual exceptional standards in the Études. There are moments of breath-taking brilliance, such as in ‘Pour les huit doigts’, and her sense of poetry and colour are apparent throughout. Nonetheless, the more energetic Études, such as ‘Pour les quartes’ and the final ‘Pour les accords’ do not fly as freely as in Mitsuko Uchida’s lauded version (Philips). That said, Ogawa includes another half-hour of music over Uchida, and her control of atmosphere in the Épigraphes antiques underlines why her series is one of the strongest on disc and a thoroughly outstanding achievement. Christopher Dingle