Strongly, indeed, urgently recommended
Andrew McGregor 2006
From the Delphic Dancers of the first Prelude to the explosive Fireworks that end the second book, each Debussy Prelude immerses us in a separate and distinct world; a collection of 24 microcosms which have to be explored and illuminated individually, and yet are still undeniably related by what Steven Osborne recognises as ‘a wonderfully subtle sense of ebb and flow that is innate to Debussy’s music.’
Osborne talks about the way Debussy’s meticulous instructions and carefully controlled dynamic markings result in what feels like an almost improvisatory freedom in the music, and the sheer variety of moods and textures – the violent gusts of the west wind, the subdued hopelessness of ‘Footsteps in the Snow’, the humour of the minstrels Debussy remembered playing on the promenade at Eastbourne outside his hotel...and above all the eerie sub-aquatic world of the sunken cathedral of Ys, which Osborne thinks is, at least in terms of sonority, perhaps the greatest piano piece ever written.
On this evidence, you’d be inclined to agree with him. Osborne achieves little miracles of colour and control. You should be able to take the technical fluency for granted at this level – and you can – yet this is a quiet virtuosity compared to some of the famous recordings of Debussy’s Preludes, a prodigious technique that’s put humbly at the service of the music.
The recording respects Steven Osborne as much as he does the composer; the pianist provides the colour, the resonance, the glowing halo of sound, and the recording delivers it with great clarity and honesty. Add fascinating notes from Roger Nichols, and you have a very classy package indeed. Strongly, indeed, urgently recommended.