thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded
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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes Book 1 (1910) [36:23]
Préludes Book 2 (1911-13) [35:13]
L’isle joyeuse (1904) [5:39]
Angela Brownridge (piano)
rec. 2016, Westvest Church, Schiedam, the Netherlands.
Reviewed in SACD stereo. CHALLENGE CLASSICSCC72727 SACD [77:16]
This is Angela Brownridge’s third release on the Challenge Classics label. John Whitmore was enthusiastic about her Beethoven sonatas (review), I was rather less so with regard to the Chopin album (review). The Debussy Préludes prove to be very fertile ground however, and have landed nicely in time for the Debussy centenary.
Recorded in the now familiar acoustic of Schiedam’s Westvest Church, this is a fine sounding SACD, with the sonorities of the piano blending nicely together without sacrificing too much detail to the altar of perceived impressionism. Tricky atmospheric pieces such as Voiles have the right kind of colouristic and dynamic layering, creating a sense of mystery and distance. Fluid evenness of touch deliver the dramatic turbulence of Le vent dans la plaine, and the character of light is luminous in pieces such as Les collines d’Anacapri. Brownridge doesn’t linger too lovingly over Des pas sur la neige, the footsteps slightly hesitant, and with a desolate momentum that emphasises loneliness. Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest generates a tremendous piano sound, forceful without sounding forced, while the lyrical grace of La fille aux cheveux de lin is full of subtle detail and by no means simplistic. La cathédrale engloutie is another deeply atmospheric emanation and superbly played here, the visual imagery unmistakeable. The impish Minstrels conclude Book 1 with evasive and flighty rubato.
Book 2 of the Préludes opens with Brouillards, about which Roger Nichols writes in his booklet notes that it “creates a foggy impression through mixing black and white notes to create a grey tonality.” Atmospheric moods deepen even further in Feuilles mortes, Brownridge balancing spaciousness and gloomy darkness with ripples of colour that you just know had to have made their impression on Messiaen. There is an essence of Frenchness through all of these pieces, but Bruyères is striking in its mixture of utter romance and little touches that always remind me of Erik Satie, all given loving attention in this recording. The character pieces such as Général Lavine and Mr Pickwick are given their due of satirical humour, and there is moonlit-bathed magic in La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune. The sparkle of Feux d’artifice is arrestingly vivid, and we are given an extra bonus in the whole-tone/modal workout of L’isle joyeuse, with a clearly expressed seascape and a sense of heroic splendour over the piece as a whole in this performance.
There are of course comparisons to be made, and favourite alternatives include Roger Woodward in supremely poetic form also on a single disc on the Celestial Harmonies label (review), and Alexander Lubimov with his historic pianos on ECM (review). I also have a big soft spot for Paul Jacobs’s excellent recording on the Nonesuch label. Angela Brownridge sits well amongst this company, and with demonstration-quality SACD sound comes very highly recommended indeed.
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