DEBUSSY Images Books 1 & 2. Préludes, Book 2
Marc-André Hamelin’s stature, extraordinary from the start, increases with every new issue. And here in his latest album he subdues his legendary, transcendent technique to convey Debussy’s very essence with a surpassing ease and naturalness. For him, personal idiosyncrasy or impediment – a determination to be different at all costs – would affront Debussy’s genius, and so he offers profoundly expressive yet lucid and transparent insights into the composer’s teeming imagination.
His opening to ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ is hauntingly shaded and indolent; and in the final pages, when the ripples move outwards from the centre, there is an uncanny sense of stillness and resolution. In ‘Cloches à travers les feuilles’ the funeral bells toll from village to village, from All Saints’ Day to All Souls’ Day with a special poignancy, while in ‘Brouillards’ there is a superb if unintentional riposte to a drier French tradition (exemplified at its least engaging in, for example, Cécile Ousset’s recording) with an uncanny sense of eerily shifting mist and flickering half-lights. In ‘Hommage à S Pickwick Esq’ you sense how, as Roger Nichols puts it in his scholarly, witty and sensitive notes, Debussy ‘rather admired English sangfroid (those were the days…), but was not beyond giving it the occasional dig in the ribs’. Finally, ‘Feux d’artifice’ and a fiery display of Bengal lights, pinwheels and soaring rockets resolved in a distant fragment of the Marseillaise.
The poetic sheen and finish of all these performances are things to marvel at, leaving me to long for more Debussy, to say nothing of Fauré and Ravel, from an artist supremely attuned to the French repertoire, as to so much else. Hamelin’s glistening sonority is flawlessly captured by the Hyperion team. This is a disc to treasure.