I must admit I had raised eyebrows when I noticed that Pierre-Laurent Aimard had recorded a disc of Debussy piano works but on reflection it makes perfect sense.
Aimard has built a reputation for himself as one of the finest pianists of his generation, and can support his claim with technically and musically stunning recordings of contemporary giants Ligeti and Messiaen as well as recent recordings of Beethoven Concertos.
Debussy, of course, is a precursor to Messiaen both in style and chronology, and the Etudes, shirked by many a pianist, are ideal vehicles for Aimard’s technique. The first Etude, dedicated to the celebrated 19th century teacher Carl Czerny, is a simple scale to start with, but a much more difficult development section that leads to a spectacular end.
The peal of bells that opens Pour les Quartes is well coloured by Aimard, whilst he successfully captures the exuberance of Pour les Octaves. The wild, fluttering right hand passages that characterise the chromatic seventh etude are effortless, whilst the skittish figuration of the following Pour Les Agrements is also a joy.
Although Aimard’s interpretation of these fiendishly difficult pieces might come across as a bit cool, to me they are ideal, sounding totally at ease and captured in a sympathetic acoustic.
The Images are no less successful, with Aimard up against some stiff competition from French pianists Michelangeli and Cortot. He brings a coolness to the famous movement Reflets dans l’eau, but can be found achieving a fiercesome momentum in Mouvement, showing that he can drive the music forward when needed.
There’s no way of hearing all the solo piano discs that will be released this year, but a fair bet that this will be a choice for many fans of piano music. If you’ve heard Clair De Lune before and are wondering whether to purchase more Debussy, give this one a go. You’ll be spellbound by Aimard’s virtuosity.