Debussy Préludes

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Debussy Préludes

  • (24) Préludes

More than 30 years have passed since Gieseking's death. For a while thereafter his recordings remained as a monument to his art, but these have long been out of circulation. For pianists and listeners of the new generation his is a reputation passed down mainly by admiring older voices and in suspiciously hagiographical literature.
This record should change all that, for it reveals keyboard artistry undimmed by the intervening years. All those critical expostulations over the ravishing quality of sound, the control and shading of pianissimos, the subtlety of pedalling, the ability to individualize and yet blend the strands of a texture, are vindicated. The instrument really does appear to dissolve into something illusory and magical, just as Debussy intended—take ''Le vent dans la plaine'', as one of a dozen possible examples. And if that seems surprising from a 15-stone, six-foot-three German pianist, perhaps even more so are the delightful humour of ''Le danse de Puck'' and ''Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq., PPMPC'' and the sheer naughtiness of ''Minstrels''.
Two aspects of Gieseking's art have not stood the test of time quite so well. Reports of his technical perfection sit uneasily alongside his scrambling through the virtuosic preludes, such as ''Les collines d'Anacapri'' and ''Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest'' which suggests that he actually needed to practise rather more than he thought he did (though ''Feux d'artifice'' shows the technique in impressive shape). And Gieseking's much-vaunted fidelity to the text is surely a bit of a fiction. He can be as cavalier over dynamics as the next man—''Ce qu'a vu'' works up a good stormy forte long before Debussy cancels the initial piano, for example—and in any case he was clearly working from editions which we now know to be serious misrepresentations.
Far more important though, is the precision of artistic image imparted to each piece—even when Gieseking casts caution and dozens of notes to the winds, this imaginative strength carries him through. And it is worth pondering on the fact that despite the impression of spaciousness this must be one of the fastest Debussy Preludes on record. Background hiss is roughly what one would expect, but if there are any other signs of age in the recording quality Gieseking's artistry conquers them with ease.'

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