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
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).