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Piano Concertos 1 and 2
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A Garland for John McCabe


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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune and other piano favourites
Suite bergamasque: Clair de lune [05:10]
La plus que lente [04:48]
Arabesque no.1 [05:08]
Le petit nègre [01:29]
Children’s Corner: The snow is dancing [02:54], The little shepherd [02:55], Golliwog’s cakewalk [03:07]
Estampes: La soirée dans Grenade [05:29], Jardins sous la pluie [03:46]
Arabesque no.2 [03:37]
Valse romantique [03:31]
Danse (Tarantelle styrienne) [05:14]
Pour le piano: Toccata [04:00]
Images I: Reflets dans l’eau [05:19]
Images II: Poissons d’or [03:54]
Mazurka [03:06]
Rêverie [04:23]
Préludes I: La fille aux cheveux de lin [02:14], Minstrels [02:08], La cathédrale engloutie [05:57]
François-Joël Thiollier (piano)
rec. 1994-1996, Temple Saint Marcel (This is a sampler from Thiollier’s 5-disc Debussy cycle, for full recording dates see individual reviews).
NAXOS 8.555800 [78:10]

Having so recently worked my way through the entire Thiollier cycle I suppose I might have been forgiven for reviewing this sampler disc from memory. But I did listen to it. I wondered if hearing the performances in another context would change my reactions to some of them.

I don’t think so. I enjoyed once again the ravishing beauty of Clair de lune and several other early pieces such as the First Arabesque and the Revêrie.  I was glad to be reminded that La cathédrale engloutie has some unusual tempo relationships which may derive from Debussy’s own piano roll recording.

I also got the idea that some of Thiollier’s more personal rubatos may not wear too well – I am thinking of Reflets dans l’eau – but I enjoyed again his gently glistening sound. Less happily, I still find Thiollier pulls the dance-based pieces like the Valse romantique and the Mazurka around too much.

But I fail to see the point of this anthology. The disc does give an honest picture of Thiollier’s strengths and weaknesses, but it would have been far more useful to assemble his best performances, of which there are more than enough to fill a single CD. By careful selection you could put together a disc of magically fine Debussy-playing. Such a CD would have been a worthwhile proposition for people already well-equipped with Debussy but who might like to have at least some Thiollier.

And yet, even if the idea was to present a portrait of Debussy as a piano composer, I find the selection odd. Would people limiting themselves to a single disc of  Debussy want to bother with the Valse romantique or the Mazurka? No, quite frankly I think that at the Naxos price most people could stretch to the complete cycle. If you want to pick and choose, then go for Volume 1, where the earliest pieces are mostly brought off with real magic. Or Volume 4 which would be a good version of the Préludes at any price. Or Volume 2 which has La boîte à joujoux and the solo version of Epigraphes antiques, works not always included in Debussy cycles.

Christopher Howell 

Other reviews of this series:

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5



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