CLAUDE DEBUSSY: “Beau Soir” – Preludes, Book II and Other Works – Michael Lewin, p. – Pure Audio Blu-ray multichannel sound & standard CD. (Two discs) – Sono Luminos DSL-92175, 1:08:56 [Distr. by Naxos] (1/28/14) ****:

Beau Soir” is a superbly played and recorded collection of Debussy works from Preludes- Book II and a sampling of other short works.  It is the first time these pieces have been presented in high resolution. [Not quite so: there’s a 4-SACD EMI set from the original Walter Gieseking mid-30s 78s, and an even higher resolution of all the Preludes from the same sources on a Pristine DVD-R or download. Plus assorted Preludes included in recitals on SACDs from Denon, Albany, Esoteric, Universal Japan, Membran and EMI Japan…Ed.] We get a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc with 5.1, 7.1 and 2.0 mixes. There is also a standard CD thoughtfully provided.

Pianist Michael Lewin enjoys a distinguished international reputation as one of America’s most gifted concert pianists, performing to excellent reviews in 30 countries. Lewin has appeared as soloist with the Netherlands Philharmonic, Cairo Symphony, Bucharest ‘Enescu’ Philharmonic, Filharmónica Jalisco de Guadalajara, State Symphony of Greece, the Boston Pops, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the Symphonies of Phoenix, Indianapolis, Miami, Colorado, Nevada, West Virginia, Puerto Rico, Illinois, North Carolina, Sinfonia da Camera, and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. On this disc Lewin plays solo.

Debussy wrote two ‘books’ of Preludes. This collection of 12 pieces was written between the last months of 1912 and early April 1913. It isn’t known if Debussy expected these pieces to be played together, or even in any particular order.

Lewin’s performance is exemplary. Dynamic and sensitive, and if you are familiar with other performances of these works you will likely find Lewin’s interpretation exciting without being idiosyncratic.

The recoding shows what may be the future of disc-based high resolution music. The disc will play on any Blu-ray player. The SACD format was never a runaway hit, although SACDs have  found a comfortable home in classical, jazz and some rock remasters. These Pure Audio discs have enough room to give you several playback options, from stereo to 7.1 multi-channel. I don’t think solo piano is necessarily going to show off all the capabilities of this high resolution multichannel format, but one can certainly hear a certain liveness to the hammer strikes and sense of space around the piano. This is an immersive and tremendously impressive recording.

So we have an excellent disc both musically and sonically. That’s not a common situation. Sometimes we find the demo discs come up short, and just as often the great performances are not well recorded. While this Debussy collection is not a full orchestral sonic spectacular, it’s certainly the best piano recording I have heard, and the performance is faultless.

Even the included CD version is top flight.


1. Beau Soir 
2. L´Isle joyeuse 
3. The Little Shepherd 
4. Danse (Tarantelle Styriene) 
5. Elégie
6. Pour les octaves 
7. Valse romantique
8. La plus que lent 
Préludes Book II:
9. I. Brouilards 
10. II. Feuilles mortes 
11. III. La Puerta del Vino 
12. IV. “Les Fées sont d’exquises danseuses” 
13. V. Buyères
14. VI. General Lavine – eccentric 
15. VII. La terrasses des audiences du clair de lune 
16. VIII. Ondine 
17. IX. Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. 
18. X. Canopes 
19. XI. Les tierces alternées 
20. XII. Feux d’Artifice

—Mel Martin