Gieseking: Debussy Preludes Book I - Italian Columbia 33 QCX 10063, superb copy
Jacket NM / LP NM / Italian pressing
This beautiful LP from La Voce del Padrone · Italian HMV (33 QCX 10063, Italian pressing, blue/silver label, mono, glossy laminated flipback jacket) features Walter Gieseking in an incomparable rendering of Debussy's 12 Preludes from Book I, warmly recorded on 9 and 10 December 1954 at EMI's Abbey Road Studio No. 3 (producer: Geraint Evans / engineer: Francis Dillnut), magically luminescent – quite simply stunnning.
The exact contents are as follows:
Preludes Book I
- Danseuses de Delphes
- La vent dans la plaine
- Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir
- Les collines d'Anacapri
- Des pas sur la neige
- Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest
- La fille aux cheveux de lin
- La Sérénade interrompue
- La cathédrale ingloutie
- La danse de Puck
Wrote the eminent critic Ivan March in his May 2000 review for The Gramophone:
“Walter Gieseking's set of both Books of the Debussy Preludes is a different matter -- one of the great classics of the gramophone. The individual insights are endless, so is the extraordinary feeling for the music's evocation and atmosphere. The 1953-54 recordings just missed the stereo era, but the Abbey Road mono sound is first-class. I thought Walter Legge had produced both Books, but no, Geraint Evans was responsible for Book 1. There is very little appreciable sonic difference.”
And In reviewing EMI’s CD re-issue of Gieseking complete Debussy recordings the eminent critic Bryce Morrison wrote in his June 1996 review for The Gramophone:
“Certain creators and re-creators become synonymous. Beethoven and Schnabel, Chopin and Rubinstein at once spring to mind. Yet in the entire history of performance I doubt whether there has ever existed a more subtle or golden thread than that between Debussy and Gieseking. French jibes about the reduction of Debussy's clarity to a charming but essentially decorative opalescence are little more than the bitter fruit of envy, of an exclusivity, that finds a German pianist's supreme mastery of their greatest composer's elusive heart and idiom hard to stomach.
“Gieseking's insight and iridescence in Debussy are so compelling and hypnotic that they prompt either a book or a blank page — an unsatisfactory state where criticism or assessment is concerned! So let me, in the limited space available, shuttle from the general to the local or particular and vice versa. First and foremost, there is Gieseking's sonority, one of such delicacy and variety that it can complement Debussy's witty and ironic desire to write music "for an instrument without hammers", for a pantheistic art sufficiently suggestive to evoke and transcend the play of the elements themselves ("the wind, the sky, the sea ..."). Who but Gieseking could conjure such stillness in the closing bars of "Reflets dans l'eau" (Images, Book 1)? Here the ripples move outward from the centre, a haunting and mysterious memory of former hyperactivity (dans une sonorite harmonieuse et lointaine). From Gieseking "Des pas sur la neige" (Preludes, Book I) hints at an ultimate negation, of someone who can both poignantly and impassively regard "the nothing that is not and the nothing that is" — a true mind of winter. Lack of meticulousness seems a small price to pay for such an elemental uproar in "Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest", and Puck's elfin pulse and chatter (pp aerian) are caught with an uncanny deftness and precision. The final Debussian magic may not lie in a literal observance of the score, in the unfailing dotting and crossing of every objective and picturesque instruction, yet it is surely the start or foundation of a great performance. Listen to the start of "Canope" (Preludes, Book 2) and you will note Gieseking's fidelity to pianissimo, piano and hairpin decrescendo, piet piano, hairpin decrescendo and pianissimo, all within five bars, complemented by a finespun texturing of chords that penetrates to the very core of this mysterious, near minimalist utterance.
“More domestically, no one (not even Cortot) has ever captured the sense in Children's Corner of a lost and enchanted land, of childhood reexperienced through adult tears and laughter. Gieseking's moderee in "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" ensures that everything has time to 'tell' or signify. Here, Chouchou is presented as a serious little girl concerned with playing beautifully rather than getting through her practice as soon as possible. "Jimbo's lullaby", too, is no mere heavyweight, but a wistful animal lost in reflection (his lot as a woollen rather than a real elephant, perhaps?).
“In the seemingly slighter and evanescent early works — in Danse bohemienne, with its touch of vaudeville, Reverie and Mazurka — there is a luminous fragility and pinpoint delicacy that lift such music on to a plane that would have surely astonished Debussy himself. And here, in particular, Gieseking's magic lies in infinitesimal shadings rather than in heavy-handed rubato or distortion. His Suite bergama.sque is a true pastoral idyll with a "Clair de lune" as shimmering and entranced as any on record (listen to the section commencing tempo rubato at 104" and you will hear chording balanced and textured from the top to perfection).
“"Pour les tierces", from the Etudes, may get off to a shaky start but, again, in Debussy's final masterpiece, where pragmatism is resolved into a fantasy undreamed of even by Chopin, Gieseking's artistry tugs at and haunts the imagination. Try "Pour les sonorites opposees", the nodal and expressive centre of the Etudes, and you may well wonder when you have heard playing more subtly gauged or articulated, or the sort of interaction with a composer's spirit that can make modern alternatives, by Pollini for example, seem so parsimonious by comparison.
“So here is that peerless palette of colour and texture, of a light and shade used with a nonchalantly deployed but precise expertise to illuminate every facet of Debussy's teeming and insinuating imagination. An added bonus, a 1951 performance of the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (an ecstatic and scintillating work, played here with a lifeaffirming chiaroscuro) completes an incomparable set of discs. Andrew Walter's transfers are a triumph, with an immediacy much less obvious in the originals. These records should be in every musician's library, be they singer or conductor, violinist or pianist, etc. If Gramophone believed in a starring system they would deserve a heavenful of stars.”
This is exalted playing by any measure and all those who treasure these works will find them an endless journey of discovery, landmarks in the Debussy discography.
There are fine liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket, printed in Italian only. The striking cover design is uncredited, alas.
The gradations of condition I use are as follows: MINT, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
The condition of the jacket is near-MINT. There is bumping at corners, but that is all. There are no seamsplits, owners’ markings, bends, or other defects, and the whole remains solid, bright, glossy, and highly attractive – overall, a lovely collector’s copy.
The condition of the LP itself is near-MINT. Although surfaces are not absolutely silent (and thus I have rated it NM vs. MINT) and there are a few “sounds” (not tics), really this is a fine copy and playback is superb. If you must have perfect surfaces, then please do not buy this LP. Overall, this rates as a NM collector's copy.