debussy piano ogawa bis

Déjà Review: this review was first published in August 2001 and the recording is still available.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Piano Music – Volume 1
Images, Sets 1 & 2
Images oubliées

L’isle joyeuse
Noriko Ogawa (piano)
rec. 2000, Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm
BIS BISCD1105 [73]

This disc heralds the beginning of a project to record the complete piano music of Debussy, one of the great challenges for a pianist. And Noriko Ogawa most assuredly sets her standard here, which places her as a leading exponent of this music, surely the greatest piano music of the 20th century.

It is a remarkable achievement, not least because she is so young. But by every standard of Debussy playing – subtlety, atmosphere, phrasing, shading, precision – she is excellent. Her attention to the composer’s carefully expressed instructions resounds to the music’s details with due care and attention, with the result that the performances achieve a special insight.

The very opening of the programme reflects these particular strengths, and is really compelling. Reflets dans l’eau, from the first set of Images, is remarkable for its beauty of tone and shape, for which all credit also to the BIS engineers for capturing the performance in such splendid sound. The first number of the second set of ImagesCloches à travers les feuilles, is equally impressive, the tolling of the funeral bell creating a quite extraordinary intensity, the more so because of the restraint of dynamic which is achieved during the final pages, an effect which is precisely what Debussy sought.

There is room also for power when it is called for, as in the final number of the first set of Images, simply entitled Mouvement. Here Ogawa grades the dynamics of the heavier longer notes against the tumult of semiquavers to perfection – again, with the conspicuous support of the engineers.

This attention to detail can result in performances which may seem to be of a lower emotional voltage, on the surface at least; but the inner strengths come through on repeated hearings. L’isle joyeuse, for example, can sound more immediately imposing than this, but there is more to Debussy performance than immediate impressions.

The atmosphere created is always absolutely right in each piece, and notably with a genuine pianissimo whenever one is called for. The unique sound-world of Debussy is delivered with the utmost conviction, and I await the remainder of Ogawa’s recordings with eager anticipation.

Terry Barfoot

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