I once read an article where a recording or performance by Karajan and Walter Legge’s peerless Philharmonia Orchestra was described, ambivalently, as having the qualities “of a perfectly formed icicle”. I was reminded of this when I encountered the somewhat tardy release of Maurizio Pollini’s Second Book of Debussy’s Preludes: the First appeared as long ago as 1999.
Pollini’s recitals have recently attracted some scathing reviews and I was interested to detect any deterioration in his playing. Not at all! He still conveys the crystalline clarity and aristocratic poise of Michelangeli but, that said, and without wanting to overdo the mythological allusions, his reading is high on Olympian aloofness and Apollonian composure, but slightly lacking in Dionysian abandon. In the more “impressionistic” pieces he is superb, but in the character pieces he is distinctly short on humour. I also wonder what Rubinstein would have made of La Puerta del Vino, which is hardly suffused with the scent of jasmine.
Samson François has always been, for me, hors concours in Debussy but you don’t have to be French to capture its essence: Walter Gieseking was a German nationalist yet admirers regard him similarly in Debussy. The remainder of the CD comprises the late and even more elusive En Blanc et Noir where Pollini is joined by his son Daniel. Here, they are superb! A pity there’s only 50 minutes of music.