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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune from Suite bergamasque (c.1890) [5:11]
Préludes book 2 (1911-1913) [40:45]
Pour le piano (1901) [13:57]
Deux arabesques (c.1891) [7:40]
Katie Mahan (piano)
rec. 2019?, Meistersaal, Berlin
Notes in English and German
KM CLASSIC [67:33]

Katie Mahan is well represented on disc. She has recorded for Berliner Meister Schallplatten and for Deutsche Grammophon (Bernstein’s complete solo piano works), and had eight independent releases. She has now set up her own KM Classics label, and this is the first release.

After studies with Howard Waltz, a pupil of Robert Casadesus, and, more significantly, with Pascal Rogé, Mahan certainly has a pedigree in Debussy’s music. She has previously recorded the first book of Préludes and the Suite Bergamasque (Mvh-Music – no number given). Now she turns her attention to the second book, alongside works from earlier in Debussy’s career.

In the notes, she writes of her long fascination with Clair de lune, a work which appears on both of her Debussy albums. This release also includes her official video of the work. Mahan conceived and produced the video. It interweaves footage of the pianist herself with scenes of atmospheric Venetian nights, romantically lit canals, gliding gondolas and commedia dell’arte characters at a masked ball; slow motion and dreamy looks abound. Whether or not your taste extends to MTV-style videos of short classical works, it certainly creates vivid imagery and ably demonstrates how Mahan imagines this music.

You can of course simply enjoy the audio tracks alone, and there is much to enjoy. Mahan clearly relishes the challenges of the more virtuoso items. The toccata from Pour le piano and Feux d’artifice from the Préludes are fleet, without unnecessary extravagance. Elsewhere, the portraits of General Lavine and Pickwick for example, there is strong characterisation. The pianist does not shy from sharp contrasts. On my first hearing of Brouillards, I wondered if the piano texture was too clear for the misty subject. On listening again, I felt a real sense of foggy wisps curling around the ankles, misty curtains shifting to reveal shapes in an otherwise featureless landscape.

If I have reservations, they are small. For my taste, there was too much rubato in the cake walk of “General Lavine” eccentric, for example. The piano sound was a wee bit bright to my ears (perhaps more suited to the music of Gershwin, who features in Mahan’s next release). Overall though this is an excellent disc. There is a lot of stiff competition out there with this popular repertoire. I cannot claim that Mahan offers any new insights, but this is a well-chosen programme, brought to life with bold colour and ebullience. A vividly coloured, imaginative recital.

Rob Challinor

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