Debussy Piano Works
Jos van Immerseel uses an Erard piano of 1897 which he found to be in perfect condition on first discovering it in 1976. As he writes in his insert-notes: ''the action and hammers showed not a trace of wear, but they were unmistakably original. Even the strings were fresh and new, a miracle in a sixty-year old piano.'' So its tone quality can be accepted as very much of the kind Debussy himself would have known when m 1894 composing his earliest set of Images (called oubliees by the publisher), those three bewitching pieces not given to the world until 1978. Immerseel captures all the ''dreamy enchantment'' of the Pelleas-orientated No. 1, the grave grace of No. 2 (ultimately revised as the ''Sarabande'' of Pour le piano), and even the cheeky piquancy of No. 3, some of it to re-emerge in later works including ''Jardins sous la pluie''—and incidentally nothing better justifies Immerseel's belief in this Erard's colour potential than the obsessively ringing bell at the end.
Emerging some 16 years later, with Debussy in full maturity, the 12 Preludes of Book I inevitably make wider instrumental demands. Here again Immerseel reminds us of the composer's own delicacy of approach, his constant striving to make listeners believe that the piano was an instrument without hammers. Sometimes I missed the bolder dynamic range and sharper, more crystalline outlines and contrasts obtainable from keyboards of today, and notably, of course, in ''Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest'' and ''Les collines d'Anacapri''. But whenever a gentler, impressionistic dans une brume kind of sonority is required, then there is far more to enjoy in this well-recorded disc than I'd dared to hope—even if Immerseel's tempo is once or twice dangerously slower than requested.'