Estampes – Clair de lune – La plus que lente – Elégie – Préludes I
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
The present recording of some of the most popular works for piano written by Claude Debussy (Estampes, Clair de lune, La plus que lente, Elégie and Préludes I) has been released at the beginning of 2018 to celebrate the composer’s centenary. It adds another item to the discography of conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has already recorded other popular orchestral and piano works by the French composer.
The present recording, however, is not a thrilling one. Its strong points are the quality of the recorded sound of the piano and Barenboim’s manifest knowledge of the composer, a knowledge which allows him to offer an accurate and precise rendition of the works – but, if on the one hand this meticulousness is valuable because it allows him to bring out the most significant passages and to offer moments of interest, on the other hand it weights on Debussy’s music in a way that prevents it to sparkle as it should.
I am not implying that Daniel Barenboim does not play skilfully, this is definitely not the case. Actually, in the most successful passages you really hear his unstinted commitment to music, but, apart from these brief moments, there is something too much restrained and, so to say, considered to let the music flow free and light. Colours and feelings are all present at the right place and at the right time, but a lack of stamina in favour of a quieter but less incisive calmness is detrimental to their effective outcome. Barenboim’s rendition inspires curiosity rather than surprise or wonder.
In detail, the five works of this collection have all their qualities as well as flaws. Slow tempos (just a little slower than usual, but it is enough to make the difference) and a heavy hand are more unsuitable than appropriate to the Estampes and the three short pieces Clair de lune, La plus que lente and Elégie have more or less the same problem: an impeccable technique which anyway is too much aware of itself to give rein to imagination. The Préludes I, for their part, are indisputably pervaded with lyrical passion and feelings, so that it can be said that they are inspired as their titles announce, but even them are not freely flowing.
Daniel Barenboim’s Debussy is for these reasons only partially convincing: the elements for a fine rendition of Estampes, of the Préludes I and of the other short works are all there, but in the end it seems not to be enough to have a commanding performance of them.