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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Petite Suite (1888-1889) [13:24]
Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire (1890, 1st version) [7:11]
Six Épigraphes antiques (1914-1915) [15:08]
Première Suite d'orchestre (c.1882-1884) [26:16]
Jean-Pierre Armengaud and Olivier Chauzu (piano four-hands)
rec. Studio 4'33 Pierre Malbos, Ivry-sur-Seine, France, March and July 2012
NAXOS 8.572979 [62:16]


 
This is a highly realistic-sounding recording of a piano four-hands recital from the position of the players. In other words the keyboard is spread in front of the listener with the top end distinctly to the right. One can hear the pedalling and even the breathing of these two. I do slightly question the decision to record from this perspective in that no audience member is able to sit like this. However such a view is not unique in the recording world and they can be forgiven because it sounds so good. The engineering is not 100% perfect - there is a clear editing error in track 4 at 3.08, as if the digital scissors slipped. A reminder that modern recordings are made up of often hundreds of edits, considering which it is well disguised the rest of the time.
 
What of the music? Most collectors will have a substantial amount of Debussy's delicious piano music, but this collector discovered that most of this CD was new to him, a pleasure in itself. The early Petite Suite is the most famous music present. The even earlier Première Suite d'orchestre was only published in 2008 in this four-hand version. It is a lovelypiece throughout its full 26 minutes and does not sound like anyone except Debussy. The Six Épigraphes antiques are late Debussy and display his extraordinary command of advanced harmony. The ear is constantly tickled by the most strange sounds. The recital is completed by the rare 1st version of the Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire.
 
The two pianists are new to me and display a high degree of togetherness, if not the pin-sharp unity of, say, Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky. Given such unusual fare this is a fine set of performances and mostly very well recorded indeed. The notes by Gérald Hugon are detailed and well structured - and translated into elegant English by Susannah Howe. Hugon tells the purchaser everything he is likely to want to know about the discovery of the early compositions and their complex history, and then goes on to discuss each piece thoroughly. We have grown to expect such quality from Naxos, another star to them.

Dave Billinge