DEBUSSY Préludes. Children's Corner (Jumppanen)
This fascinating new two-disc set of Debussy, superbly recorded by Ondine, presents the bona fides of the Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen as a musician of keen intelligence and almost preternatural sensitivity. One of the most striking aspects of his approach to this thrice-familiar repertory is a predilection for extremely spacious, unrushed tempos. Yet as soon as you notice this, it becomes apparent that his choice of tempo is perfectly conceived for what he has to say in the music, which is a great deal indeed. I would hesitate to describe Jumppanen as a colourist, at least in the conventional sense usually applied to pianists. What he does possess is an infinitely calibrated dynamic range which surely must be the envy of his colleagues. This finely delineated command of the subtlest whisper through the most robust proclamation, in combination with an unusually acute sense of proportion, is what lends his performances their life, breadth and originality.
In ‘Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir’, for instance, time seems suspended, almost forcing you to listen and breathe. Strumming guitars and the wailing of a flamenco singer build to a sinister intensity in ‘La puerta del vino’. Sparks flying from spinning pinwheels and the trajectory of rockets in ‘Feux d’artifice’ seem viewed from every conceivable vantage: on a clear, balmy summer’s night; through the distorting panes of a window; muted by a lowering fog; through the gossamer strands of a spider’s web. And I don’t know another ‘Cathédrale engloutie’ whose architectural splendour is more thrillingly glimpsed as sunlight penetrates water’s gently shifting prism.
This is not the sort of music-making that immediately grabs you. In fact, the first response to any given piece may be to wonder at the particular interpretative choices involved. But after listening to only a few bars, it becomes difficult to imagine how it could be played any other way.