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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes Book 1 (1910) [40:15]
Préludes Book 2 (1910-13) [36:44]
Pascal Rogé (piano)
rec. Salle de Musique, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, January 2004. DDD
ONYX 4004 [78:09]

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There is no shortage of recommendable sets of the Debussy Preludes, but there is a surprising lack of digital one-disc versions of both books. In fact, I can only think of one, Martino Tirimo on super-budget Pickwick or IMP Masters as it became. It’s not just this fact that makes Tirimo’s the nearest comparison to this new Pascal Rogé disc. Both pianists inhabit similar sound-worlds, have similar approaches to individual pieces and are remarkably similar in timings.

Warmth of tone, soft coloration of harmonies, a rich and multi-layered keyboard palette, these are some of the hallmarks of both Tirimo and Rogé. This playing is light years away from the crystalline attack of Krystian Zimerman or his inspiration, Michelangeli. After experiencing the phenomenal technical assurance of these two - especially in the Lisztian bravura of, say, ‘Feux d’artifice’ - some may find Rogé’s penchant for suggestion, rather than bold statement, somewhat lacklustre. It never bothered me once. In fact, it’s best to see this as another viewpoint of what is endlessly fascinating music, music that can be interpreted in many ways and still be faithful to the composer’s intentions.

You may have gathered by now that Rogé’s approach makes him more successful in some Preludes than others, and this is basically true. The diaphanous textures of ‘Voiles’, or the hauntingly beautiful impressions of ‘Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir’ suit him to a tee. I’m not sure he gauges the pulse at bars 7-12 of ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ correctly. Tirimo’s performance follows the composer’s own here in playing them at twice the speed, and it’s always been a moot point. However the emerging of the cathedral from the mists in the big central section is superbly effective in Rogé’s hands. The piano and recording quality must be mentioned here, as both are in the demonstration bracket and contribute much to the enjoyment of the disc.

I found myself going back and forth between Tirimo, Zimerman and Rogé and finding new things from each, which is as it should be. I doubt there can ever be one recommendation for such great and important music; some would say Gieseking, who has his own loyal following. You will be lost in admiration for Rogé in the exquisite tenderness of ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’, charming and intimate in equal measure. You may also find his opening to ‘Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses’ too measured, even lax when compared to Zimerman, whose glittering fingerwork really does achieve Debussy’s marking of rapide et léger. I’ve already mentioned ‘Feux d’artifice’, but if there’s a better performance than Zimerman’s in the catalogue - those glissandi ...! - then I’ve yet to hear it.

To sum up, you will not be disappointed in Rogé, who is such a subtle and experienced advocate in the piano music of his homeland. The recording is truly gorgeous, as is the piano sound. I would simply urge you to try others. Tirimo - if it’s still available - is also exceptionally good in this repertoire and gets nearly as good a recording, all at super-budget. Zimerman is on two upper mid-price discs, but if this seems indulgent, wait till you hear the playing, which really is in the luxury class.

Tony Haywood

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