Right underneath Jeffrey LaDeur’s name on the CD booklet’s back is the name of the piano technician, Christopher Johnson, yet not a word about the actual piano! It appears to be an evenly regulated and responsive instrument, although producer Matt Carr’s intimate engineering compels one to scrutinise its potential for tonal nuances and shadings at a range some listeners might feel to be uncomfortably close.
To my ears, the recorded sound undermines LaDeur’s scrupulous fingerwork in the first book of Images. The sheen and shimmer we expect at the climax of ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ is missing. The long, churning lines of ‘Mouvement’ emerge choppy and notey, while ‘Hommage à Rameau’ rarely ventures beyond mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte parameters. The Préludes fare better, on the whole. Instead of the usual murk and mystery, we hear the textural levels of ‘Brouillards’ clearly differentiated, as well as the détaché bass lines of ‘Feuilles mortes’ phrased as written. LeDeur finds just enough alluring dynamic gradations and curvaceously shaped flourishes in ‘La puerta del vino’ to qualify for sexy, but the fourth Prélude’s fairies scamper with a slightly heavy gait. General Lavine’s eccentric dance conveys an idiomatically lilting ‘oom pah’ beat.
If the close-up sound sucks up a good percentage of the atmosphere of ‘La terasse des audiences du clair de lune’, the watery evocations of ‘Ondine’ benefit from lovely pedalling on the pianist’s part. LaDeur brings a welcome ragtime sensibility to the dotted rhythms in ‘Hommage à S Pickwick’ and makes sense of the sudden, wispy mood swings in ‘Canope’. No 11’s thirds may not match Steven Osborne (Hyperion, 10/06) for dazzle and suppleness but LaDeur plunges fearlessly into ‘Feux d’artifice’, never letting the energy hit ground.
LaDeur brackets the Debussy selections with two Rameau pieces. The concluding Gavotte et six doubles contains beautifully turned ornaments but the repeated notes fall flat. The pianist’s opening transcription of ‘Tristes apprêts’ from Castor et Pollux is a masterpiece of understatement, simplicity and ‘old school’ chord-playing where every note sings out with meaning. Would LaDeur make even stronger an impression live in concert?