DEBUSSY: Beau Soir; L’isle joyeuse; The Little Shepherd; Danse – Tarantelle styrienne; Élégie, L138; Études pour piano: No. 5 ‘Pour les octaves’; Valse romantique; La plus que lente; Préludes from Book 2 – Michael Lewin, p. – Sono Luminus – Pure Audio Blu-ray + CD

DEBUSSY: Beau Soir; L’isle joyeuse; The Little Shepherd (from Children’s Corner); Danse – Tarantelle styrienne; Élégie, L138; Études pour piano: No. 5 ‘Pour les octaves’; Valse romantique (L. 71); La plus que lente; Préludes – Book 2 (12, complete) – Michael Lewin, p. – Sono Luminus DSL-92175, 68:56 (multichannel Pure Audio Blu-ray + standard CD) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

It’s hard to fault Michael Lewin’s performances on this spectacularly recorded disc—I can think of few recordings of recent vintage that equal it, and none when we consider sound only. Interpretatively it reminds me of what I consider the first really modern Debussy recording of the Preludes, Krystian Zimerman on DGG, and he is also the genesis figure of a style of playing that extracts a purer and “whiter noise” from Debussy’s exotic tableau of harmonic coloring. This is good and bad; increasingly we are entering into a period that to me exemplifies a style and mannerism that tends to divorce feeling and passion from the composer, and anyone remotely familiar with his life knows that each of these attributes is vitally important when attempting to promote his music—especially his keyboard pieces.

This is not to say that Lewin eschews feeling—he does not. But I don’t get the impression—wrong word here I am sure—that this is his primary concern. Too often in the modern Debussy school the emphasis is placed on balance and “proper” concern for harmonic justice and idealized “rendering” of the complexities of the composer’s schema that leaves no overtone overturned, nor any thirteenth-chord clouded over. He does play with a subtle and couched energy that I admire, and one is hard-pressed to think that Debussy would not have enjoyed the sonic platform Lewin enjoys. This is Stokowski-style piano orchestration in sound that the conductor only heard in his dreams, and this alone does indeed add an immense element of thralldom to the experience.

I cannot urge this as an only Debussy piano experience; I still like the underrated Peter Frankl on Vox for his direct and powerful expression, and the superb Daniel Ericourt’s four disc set in somewhat erratic sound (he studied with Debussy, and the recordings are mostly stereo on Ivory Classics), and one cannot discount Arrau and Moravec. But Lewin has much to say, and says it with confidence and a genuine point of view with the best piano sound this composer has ever gotten.

—Steven Ritter

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