DEBUSSY: 12 Etudes – Pascal Roge, piano – Onyx 4056, 54:23 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The Etudes are not as popular as the more easily accessible Preludes, and though they were in essence Debussy’s last will and testament for the piano—and of his compositional skills too, seeing as only a few works were completed in the last three years of his life—they do not have the all-too-predictable impressionist connotations that so haunted the composer —who detested the label—for most of his life. They are divided into two parts of six pieces each, the first set focusing on digital dexterity while the second emphasizes scales, arpeggios, and chords. The composer himself used them as a “warning” for those entering the performance field that they better have their act together before doing so!
The recorded legacy for these works, while substantial, is not as great as for much of Debussy’s other piano music. Mitsuko Uchida has pretty well held down the modern fort for 21 years now, her Philips set being released several times, and remastered in 2001, opening up what was a rather muted and closed-off sound on the original recording, though it is still spectacularly done even in its original incarnation. Pascal Roge now enters the fray with fairly formidable Debussian credentials intact, and the results are most gratifying, with close but roomy sound that is nicely captured by the microphones.
Whereas Uchida was (and is) known for her great clarity of line and uncanny ability to delineate chordal structures and hidden harmonies, Roge takes a tact that gives freer reign to Debussy the late romantic. His harmonies sometimes blur, causing us to hear anew the murky slumbering of much of Debussy’s inner modalism, with the melodies emerging from those harmonies to and fro, at times becoming increasingly lucid and then descending back into the greater harmonic scheme, as opposed to Uchida’s crystal clear emphasis of each small texture and line as something unique in itself. Both ways prove illuminating, and show that there is often more to Debussy than first meets the ear.
Roge, who has been on the scene since 17 years of age (he is now 59), won the piano prize at the Paris Conservatory and worked for several years with Julius Katchen. His pianism is characterized by an unrestrained elegance and beautiful tone, all present on this disc. I won’t forget Uchida, or Ciccolini, or any of the other more notable Debussy interpreters of the established canon, but this disc by Roge is colorful and well-executed, and deserves all potential consideration from prospective purchasers.
— Steven Ritter