> Liszt, Debussy et la nature ADW7332[CC]: Classical Reviews- April 2002 MusicWeb-International

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in the first division

extraordinary by any standards

An excellent disc

a new benchmark

summation of a lifetime’s experience.

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
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DIETHELM Symphonies

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La Mer Ticciati










Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

Children’s Corner - The little shepherd; The snow is dancing. Préludes:, Book 1 – Des pas sur la neige; Le vent dans la plaine; Book 2 – Brouillards; Bruyères. Suite bergamasque – Clair de Lune. Images, Book 1 – Reflets dans l’eau. Estampes – Jardins sous la pluie.

Franz LISZT (1811 - 1886)

Années de pèlerinages, Première Année, Suisse, S160 – Eglogue; Au lac de Wallenstadt; Au bord d’une source; Orage. Nuages gris, S199. Etudes d’exécution transcendantes, S139 – Feux-follets. Etudes de concert, S145 - Waldesrauschen; Gnomenreigen.

Olivier de Spiegeleir (piano).
Recorded at Conservatoire Royal de Liège in December 1994.
PAVANE ADW7332 [66.42]


Experience Classicsonline

This is an interestingly themed disc that could so easily have been more inspirational than it actually is. Belgian pianist Olivier de Spiegeleir has a lot to live up to: the booklet notes make the grandiose claim that he ‘can now be considered as one of the greatest solists [sic] if his generation’. In fact de Spiegeleir is a pianist who stands continually on the cusp of memorable playing without ever achieving it.

He has chosen a musically demanding subject. The pianist's evocation of nature requires a wide variety of technique, which includes subtle tonal gradations and sensitive touch as well as the ability to master the mountains of notes to conjure up a storm, allied with a correspondingly large tone.

Franz Liszt, in his piano output, showed a great sensitivity to the elemental forces around him. So it is fitting that in performance Orage (from Années de pèlerinage First Year, Switzerland) should evoke a storm of gale-force intensity. Alas, de Spiegeleir opts for the safe option (just compare with Jorge Bolet on Decca to get a better idea of how it should be done).

Coming from the same year of the Années de pèlerinage, Au lac de Wallenstadt makes very different demands. To play simply and yet deeply and convincingly is a colossal challenge and de Spiegeleir’s valiant attempt does not quite get there. If Waldesrauschen (‘Murmures de la Forêt’) is delicate, it still misses the required sense of mystery. Most successful of the Liszt items is Nuages gris, that tremendously powerful pre-echo of suspended tonalities. de Spiegeleir takes it at a slow enough tempo to convey the mysterious and static quality, but not so slow that the music becomes totally diffuse. If there is one highlight of this disc, this is it (Sample <1>). The very next track works well also: Feux follets is painted with the most delicate of touches.

Many of the qualities of the Liszt, positive and negative, appear also in the Debussy items. Des pas sur la neige requires a pianist with enough character to make the listener hang on every note. Unfortunately, this is the weakest of the nine Debussy pieces in the recital. Neither the (slow and dreamy) Brouillards nor Bruyères emerge as their true hypnotic selves. The two extracts from Children’s Corner come off best (The little shepherd [Sample <2>] and The snow is dancing [Sample 3]): de Spiegeleir lightens his tone beautifully.

Unfortunately there is not enough to merit a recommendation here. Despite evidence of a sensitive musician at work, one continually finds oneself referring to and comparing with the greatest artists (perhaps Arrau and Bolet in Liszt and Gieseking in Debussy).

Colin Clarke


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