DEBUSSY Preludes & Transcriptions

Early-20th-century pianos for Lubimov’s Debussy project

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

DEBUSSY Preludes & Transcriptions

  • (24) Préludes
  • Nocturnes
  • Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune

Alexei Lubimov, unlike most pianists, wants us to hear Debussy ‘in a different timbral guise, cloaked in the early 20th-century colours that I would find on unique specially selected instruments’. Debussy himself, while having a Bechstein upright in his studio and a Blüthner grand in his home, somewhat perversely thought his music sounded ‘at its best and most perfect on a Bechstein grand’. For Book 1 of the Préludes, Lubimov opts for a 1925 Bechstein (‘clear, sharply etched, translucent and light, even in complex textures’) and, for Book 2, a 1913 Steinway (‘divinely soft in pianissimo, resonant and marvellously suitable for unexpected colours’).

Such refinements will go unnoticed by the casual listener and appeal more to the connoisseur and dedicated Debussian; even the committed pianophile can remain loyal to Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s new benchmark of the Préludes played on a superb Model D Steinway. But Lubimov’s not dissimilar approach – an unusually subjective engagement that transcends an acute observation of the score – and the constantly shifting, shimmering palette of colours he conjures up (try ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ and, from Book 2, ‘La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’ and ‘Feux d’artifice’) make this a thought-provoking rival. The two pianos are heard together in Ravel’s transcription of the Trois Nocturnes and Debussy’s own transcription of his famous orchestral Prélude. In other words, if you want both books of Préludes together, don’t hesitate: these two relatively uncommon arrangements are the cherry on top. In addition, I very much like ECM’s minimalist cover, excellent presentation and sound quality, lending the whole release a satisfying integrity.

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