It is not very many years ago that Debussy's late piano
music (these Études and his two-piano En blanc et noir)
were considered difficult to listen to and rarely performed. Having
struggled with them clumsily at the keyboard for decades I have been
delighted to see their growing popularity, evidenced by a sold-out Pollini
of these studies in Zurich paired with Boulez, unthinkable until recently.
This interpretation of these technically difficult
and 'profoundly original piano works' (Misha Donat, as wise a guide
as you will find) was hailed on its original release, and well deserves
inclusion in the Philips 50 series. Debussy wanted them to be dedicated
to Chopin &/or Couperin as their 'forseers', and they are a staging
post towards the ongoing series by Ligeti. Each tackles a pianistic
problem, but their musical development takes off in unpredictable directions
and they have as much to teach composers as pianists.
The most thoughtful comparative guides to standard
piano masterworks (yes, these are now established standards, with numerous
good CDs) is to be found in Piano Quarterly, which did not award the
palm to Uchida. Nevertheless, I love the fire and finesse of her version
and have relished them in many re-hearings. Superb recorded sound and
warmly recommended. Short measure? Quality is what counts!
Peter Grahame Woolf