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12 Études

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
(England April 1989)
Philips 464 698-2
[47 mins]

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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 recital 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


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