Préludes, Book I – La fille aux cheveux de lin
Études, Book II – Pour les arpèges composes
La plus que lente
Alexis Weissenberg (piano)
Recorded March 1968 in Paris
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL ORIGINALS 86765454202 Duration: 50 minutes Reviewed: May 2013
Alexis Weissenberg plays Debussy [Sony Classical Originals]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
With this Debussy recital, recorded in 1968, the great Bulgarian-born, France-domiciled pianist Alexis Weissenberg (1929-2012) is ready to make a posthumous comeback. In his final years, dogged by Parkinson’s disease, he was silent as a musician, and also reclusive. In his playing days, he built a considerable and distinguished discography, mostly for EMI and Deutsche Grammophon, with some tapings for RCA, and it’s for the latter company that this superb Debussy collection was recorded in Paris and first issued on a Red Seal LP, LSC-3090.
There’s no doubting that Weissenberg was an extreme musician, emotionally and in terms of a dynamic range, and that he polarised opinion. The performances are wonderfully clear and focussed (some would say brittle), the fingers athletic, the music-making shapely and expressive, with some of the quickest passages stopping awhile for soul-searching or for an imperious flourish. Much of this music paints pictures and Weissenberg has his canvas, easel and palette of colours at the ready. There is much that is compelling, insightful and personal, and – contrasts again – deeply sensitive and exuberantly outgoing. ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ is heartfelt, while ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ (Children's Corner) bursts with high spirits. The hedonistic intricacy of L’Isle joyeuse is intoxicating, and ‘Clair de lune’ (Suite bergamasque) is rapt and just a little potent. La plus que lente makes for a wistful envoi. The recording is immediate and dry, every note audible, for a perfect one-to-one with an illustrious if underrated master of the piano. If you’re on Weissenberg’s wavelength, you are in for a treat.