Images I & II; Children’s Corner; Suite Bergamasque;
L’isle joyeuse Seong-jin Cho (piano)
DG 479 8308 72:47 mins
This recital is full of promise. Here is a pianist with a fine technique, especially adept at sculpting simultaneous lines within a texture, a feature so crucial in playing Debussy. The bells in ‘Cloches à travers les feuilles’ each have their own sonority, with none overpowering the others.
His chording, too, makes for an unforced resonance, particularly happy in ‘Et la lune descend’, while his staccato in the ‘Menuet’ of the Suite bergamasque is as delicate as Debussy could have wished for.
The problems – and I’m afraid they are legion – come in the realms of rhythm and f low. If, as Debussy does at the start of ‘Ref lets dans l’eau’, a composer writes ‘tempo rubato’, then he must, in my view, take what comes. But the continual habit, so widespread these days, of ‘marking’ changes of texture or content with a preliminary pause is here some way beyond irritating, equalled only by the rallentandos that ruin what should be throwaway endings, as in the ‘Passepied’ of the Suite bergamasque. I assume this pianist has never listened to the recording of ‘Poissons d’or’ by Ricardo Viñes, who gave first performances of both sets of Images: Viñes is not only a lot quicker, following Debussy’s marking (3:18 against 4:23), but plays the piece with no rubato whatever. Time spent emoting in front of Monet’s paintings might have been better directed to studying historical sources. Roger Nichols PERFORMANCE ★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★