Debussy
Images – Series II
Preludes – Book 1 (Selection)
Debussy trans. Borwick
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Stravinsky
Petrushka – Three movements (trans. Stravinsky)
Alexander Gurning (piano)

Recorded in January 2003 in Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano
CD No: EMI 5626652
Duration: 53’13”
Reviewed: March 2004
The 53-minute playing time will be noted (but also note that this is a mid-price issue), so too the ’bitty’ choice of works – all Debussy’s Book 1 Preludes would have been more satisfactory, or both sets of Images. And Petrushka (Stravinsky’s transcription is equally selective), placed first, would have been a suitable finishing item, its final glissando and chord an emphatic close.
It’s Faune that concludes the CD. This sustained, shimmering orchestral masterpiece shouldn’t work on the piano, but Leonard Borwick (1868-1925), while being faithful to Debussy’s original, actually does quite a sensitive job in finding distinct colours within the piano’s compass, as, of course, did Debussy in his own inventive piano creations. Alexander Gurning, born 1973 in Belgium to Indonesian and Polish parents, the latest pianist to be presented under Martha Argerich’s auspices, keeps the reverie shapely and flowing, and also introduces himself as a musician of refinement and imagination.
Such qualities inform the other Debussy selections, of which the six Preludes are often magically done, the listener drawn-in to specific and differentiated worlds. Especially appealing are Des pas sur la neige, made hypnotic and played with feeling, and La fille aux cheveux de lin, which is simply and tenderly brought to life.
Elsewhere, Gurning can be a little hard-toned and emphatic, his pedalling less than pristine. His more percussive armoury comes into its own in Petrushka, here transmitted with bright, gleaming tone and the requisite technical command. The plus-side is poise, well-chosen tempos and unaffected direction; the down-side is a tendency to stab at notes, such chiselled delivery sometimes being a barrier to characterisation.
Gurning is at his most consistent in the Images. Here is sensitive and rounded playing, delicate and image-suggestive, warmly-sounded and not without some well-placed temperament. The recording is excellent – space, focus and tangibility in equilibrium.

 

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