Debussy: Images, Children's Corner, L'isle joyeuse, Claire de lune

Simon Trpčeski (EMI 5002722)

26 February 2008 4 stars

Simon Trpčeski : DebussySimon Trpčeski isn't the most prolific of recording artists but everything he produces is of consistently high quality; this disc of Debussy is no exception. We can take for granted the effortlessly classy pianism, the immaculate voicing and varied touch and in the works chosen here, the Two Arabesques, Children's Corner, the two books of Images, Clair de lune and L'isle joyeuse, the results are hugely successful.

Much of the programme duplicates Zoltán Kocsis' award-winning 1990 Debussy recital on Philips and it is fascinating to hear how the pianists, both gifted with prodigious techniques, approached Images. 'Reflets dans l'eau' and 'Mouvement' are less overtly virtuosic in Trpčeski's hands – his reflections are in a surface that shimmers slightly, rather than Kocsis' more choppy waters - but are no less impressive for their considered economy, rising to some carefully controlled but still overwhelming climactic moments.

The Macedonian's control of voicing in 'Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut' and 'Cloches à travers less feuilles' is a marvel, as is his unerring ability to coax some breathtakingly subtle shades out of the instrument (listen, in particular, to two minutes into 'Et la lune descend…'). 'Hommage à Rameau' is performed with carefully inflected reverence and his 'Poissons d'or' (not, Nichols reminds us, 'goldfish' but 'golden fish') are full of character and life. Throughout the two sets, there's a disciplined objectivity to Trpčeski's playing which, although less immediately thrilling than some accounts, perhaps gets closer to the heart of Debussy's score.

Although the title of Roger Nichols' accompanying booklet essay is 'Echoes and reflections', this description only covers half the story. While his account of the first Arabesque is, admittedly, wistful, gentle and understated, Trpčeski's then skips through the second with an impish lightness of touch, even if it's not quite with the stunning dexterity of Kocsis. He responds with imagination and humour to the lighter numbers in Children's Corner particularly 'Serenade for the Doll' and the 'Gollywogg's cake-walk', the latter tossed off with evident enjoyment. 'The snow is dancing' twinkles with mischief while 'Jimbo's lullaby' and the 'Little shepherd' are performed with disarming, touching simplicity. The opening 'Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum', so often reduced to a mere finger excercise, is performed with a sense of flowing, improvisatory freedom.  

The disc concludes with two favourites: Claire de lune and L'isle joyeuse. In the first, Trpčeski brings a sense of poetry and cool beauty to his playing and steers admirably clear of sentimentality and ill-advised rhythmic experimentation; it's a beautiful reading of an over-exposed work that is clean, clear and fresh. In his performance of L'isle joyeuse, some might miss the kind of ardent passion that, for example, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet brought to the piece in his recent Chandos recording (part of a complete survey of the French composer's piano works), but with it's understated, effortless virtuosity the performance here is no less persuasive. It's a lyrical account that retains a dreamy sense of other-worldliness and is distinguished by Trpčeski's ever playful, mercurial touch.

There's no shortage of excellent Debussy piano recordings in the catalogue but this is a distinguished addition and further proof of Trpčeski's rare quality as a pianist, of his unostentatiously effortless technique and unerring musicality.

By Hugo Shirley