This disc heralds the beginning of a project to record the complete piano
music of Debussy, one of the great challenges for a pianist. And Noriko Ogawa
most assuredly sets her standard here, which places her as a leading exponent
of this music, surely the greatest piano music of the 20th century.
It is a remarkable achievement, not least because she is so young. But by
every standard of Debussy playing - subtlety, atmosphere, phrasing, shading,
precision - she is excellent. Her attention to the composer's carefully expressed
instructions resounds to the music's details with due care and attention,
with the result that the performances achieve a special insight.
The very opening of the programme reflects these particular strengths, and
is really compelling. Reflets dans l'eau, from the first set of
Images, is remarkable for its beauty of tone and shape, for which
all credit also to the BIS engineers for capturing the performance in such
splendid sound. The first number of the second set of Images, Cloches
à travers les feuilles, is equally impressive, the tolling of
the funeral bell creating a quite extraordinary intensity, the more so because
of the restraint of dynamic which is achieved during the final pages, an
effect which is precisely what Debussy sought.
There is room also for power when it is called for, as in the final number
of the first set of Images, simply entitled Mouvement. Here
Ogawa grades the dynamics of the heavier longer notes against the tumult
of semiquavers to perfection - again, with the conspicuous support of the
This attention to detail can result in performances which may seem to be
of a lower emotional voltage, on the surface at least; but the inner strengths
come through on repeated hearings. L'isle joyeuse, for example, can
sound more immediately imposing than this, but there is more to Debussy
performance than immediate impressions.
The atmosphere created is always absolutely right in each piece, and notably
with a genuine pianissimo whenever one is called for. The unique sound-world
of Debussy is delivered with the utmost conviction, and I await the remainder
of Ogawa's recordings with eager anticipation.