Debussy/Britten

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy/Britten
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Fantaisie; Pour le piano; Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Barry Douglas (piano)Radio France PO/Marek Janowski
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68127 2
It no doubt seemed a daring act of international entente cordiale to record an Irish pianist, a Polish conductor and a French orchestra in a potentially fascinating coupling of two concertante works (one of them English) composed at relatively early stages in their respective composers’ careers. Neither is typical of the mature Debussy or Britten, but both are prescient of the good things to come and deserve as many sympathetic performances as they can muster.

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Alas, Barry Douglas, at least on this showing, does not seem the ideal exponent of either composer – try as he does to offer a valid alternative to the classic accounts of Richter (Britten) and Gieseking (Debussy). Britten’s youthful Piano Concerto – more Shostakovich than Britten – needs plenty of wit and warmth to offset its rather mechanical trajectory: the glittering precision of Douglas and the tentative musings of the French players simply enlarge the chinks in the early Britten’s compositional armour.

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The Debussy Fantaisie fares better though, ironically, it’s a work which, for much of the time, skilfully avoids the kinds of Romantic piano rhetoric for which Douglas is best equipped. For the filler, Pour le piano, Douglas reverts to his literal, note-by-note approach, insensitive to the swirls and eddies which shape the outer movements and to the élégance of the central sarabande. A disappointing release. Antony Bye