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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Etudes pour piano, L. 136 (1915)
Paulina Zamora (piano)
rec. 2016, Libby Gardner Concert Hall at the University of Utah School of Music
DELOS DE3530 [49:04]

Debussy’s Etudes, inspired to a certain extent by Chopin/Couperin, represent one of the last works before he died aged 55. They are regarded as fiendish to play but lovely to listen to on a warm balmy evening. There have not been a huge number of recordings but there have been several, of late which are highly regarded, so this CD which is Paulina Zamora’s solo debut has to compete with high standards and is hampered by being full price and with no additional items. Her only previous recording was part of a Trio playing Brahms given a qualified recommendation by Des Hutchinson. Paulina is a Chilean-American, and she gave a performance of Etudes, according to the detailed and interesting notes, to a rapturous reception in Santiago. I can well believe it, as she is very proficient and has a clear empathy for these works. She currently teaches at the University of Santiago.

There is a fair amount of competition for these “difficult works”, at least one of which will be in a piano lover’s collection. I have Pollini (DG), in a bargain 6CD set of Twentieth Century Music, not universally loved in this repertoire, Monique Haas's and Uchida’s acclaimed recording highly regarded by Peter Grahame Woolf and at mid-price. Collectors who like the older generation will have Gieseking, recently on Regis reviewed by Christopher Howell, these recordings are being re-released next month by Warner in a 5 CD set for just over 10 but are 60 years old and in mono, if that is a factor. In addition, there is the highly acclaimed Noriko Ogawa on BIS, for the Etudes and a budget (30) 6 CD set of all Debussy’s piano works. If that’s not enough. The great French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whom my son and I heard 18 months ago, here in Preston Minster playing late Beethoven, is available on Chandos (CHAN 10497). His recording hasn’t been reviewed here as yet—maybe a task for later! Finally, at budget price, with extra pieces, I’ve heard great things about Mariangela Vacatello on Brilliant (BRI94371).

The sound on this CD is very bright and clear and captures the piano well, perhaps too bright for the music. It sounds very different to me from the dreamlike quality of Mitsuko Uchida in sound that on my system sounds subtler I’m trying hard to avoid comments such as “it would be great at a concert” or “good on its own terms”. I particularly liked Pour les accords with its clear tribute to Liszt and Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, though even here I prefer Uchida. Ms. Zamora is certainly a force to be reckoned with in these works and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing these beautiful pieces played with such panache, and yet I fear that the competition is so great that it’s very hard to see it being a top runner. She is clearly a very good pianist and I very much enjoyed the CD, but at full price and with only the Etudes it is uncompetitive. However, if you want another recording of these pieces then do give it a go. I certainly would like to hear her next recording.
David R Dunsmore



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