The glut of Debussy recordings continues, here with Alain Planes‚ making music on an instrument by Julius Bluether, Leipzig, 1902, which permits a fourth string to vibrate sympathetically with the other three strings in the treble register. The sound produced is both brittle and warm, the action in Planes’ runs quite pronounced. A gifted colorist himself, Planes is a protégé of diverse musical personalities, ranging from Serkin to Sebok, Pressler to Starker. The E Major Arabesque communicates a studied, shimmering surface, the light action of the keyboard most conducive to the swirls and elusive ripples of the figurations. The second Arabesque pays homage to Schumann, a dreamy march and scherzando. Planes manages a fine balance between legato and non-legato touches in Debussy’s Menuet from the Bergamo suite. Even Clair de Lune emanates a rare tension which eludes others’ interpretations. The piano action works exceedingly well in the Passepied, a nimble dance whose glittering sound produces a Venetian undulation in character with the tender ethos of the magical music.
With the Children’s Corner and Images, we enter Debussy’s mature period, a synthesis of refined piano technique fused with color and rhythmic audacity. Debussy announces his intent early, in his concentrated mockery Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum, whose last bars transcend technique and become fireworks. To combine the world that surrounds us with the world that haunts us was Paul Valery’s program for poetry; so too, Debussy rarifies the child’s preoccupation with toys and beloved stuffed animals, extracting the living, nervous impulse, the tenuousness of innocence. If a wistfulness touches Jimbo’s Lullaby, a hint of Debussy’s faun can be heard in The Little Shepherd as it had in the Passepied. The Snow Is Dancing is a soft, evanescent toccata, flurrying over a plainchant. Golliwog’s Cakewalk remains a private sophisticate’s joke, an alchemical mix of music hall and Tristan, innocent no longer.
The two Books of Images, 1905 and 1907, define Debussy’s mature relations to the modern keyboard. Gossamer effects and wonderful una corda pedal in Reflets dans l’eau set the tone for both livres. How much Massenet hovers in this atmosphere! The longest piece of both sets, Hommage a Rameau, proceeds as an exotic sarabande, whose harmonic motion and lingering, chordal effects take our clavecinist Eastward, raising pagodas in his memory. The journey east continues in Mouvement, a sensuous, light toccata bristling with explosive chords, Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Time might be the subject of Bells Heard Amidst the Leaves, but this vision is Dali’s, not Newton’s. Everything becomes liquid, insistent, transcendent in the manner of Liszt. If Time is a paradox, The Moon Descends on the Temple That Was captures it, static motion. The worlds of the visible and invisible trade places. Poissons d’or are lacquer portraits, and their hard surface and aggressively intricate rhythmic syntax are in constant motion, a perfect foil to the illusion of repose so much of Debussy’s music projects.
— Gary Lemco