What sort of pianist excels at Debussy's "Preludes"? One with facility, of course, but tempered to the extraordinary mood painting of Debussy's seminal work. Someone who can get to the essence of each miniature and bring that out with the sort of hazy clarity the work suggests. A keen ear for the modernism-within-tradition that the work embodies. A player with subtle, impeccable touch, the dynamic range of a symphony orchestra. Someone with excellent interpretive sensibilities, a poet of the pianoforte.
That describes Alexei Lubimov on the new 2-CD set covering both books of the Preludes (ECM New Series B0016958-02). Add Manfred Eichner's vivid sound production and there is magic to be heard.
The "Preludes" have a special character. Singingly lyrical, harmonically ravishing, contemplative and driving in turn, so suggestive of associations yet supremely abstract, early modernist in its movement away from chromatic romanticism toward a thoroughgoing sound color palette, the works are prophetic of the music to come in the century, yet place themselves front and center as a completely integral, self-actualizing language of sensuality and sensation.
All these qualities Alexei Lubimov brings to the music, reveals as always a part of the music, puts forward as his embodiment of the music. Lubimov speaks the language of the "Preludes" with a poeticism that does full justice to the music. He shines and sparkles with evocations of mystery when called for; dazzles the ears with the more extroverted passages of emotive power; brings us back to solitary reveries in a twinkle, and reintroduces the motion and traversal of aural landscapes once again, making the contrasts seem sensible, inevitable yet still wonderfully alive.
The set includes both books of preludes plus the piano version of "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune" and the lovely "Trois Nocturnes."
It is Debussy put across the way he would have appreciated. Not too sentimental, not too bravura, not too romantic, and with a good projection of the work as the innovative, boldly new music it was at the time. This is a near ideal realization of the masterpiece-landmark it is, a highly sympathetic reading of the extraordinarily fertile and subtly expressive vehicle of brilliance it remains today.
A reveling, a revelation, a revealing, a finely detailed performance. This is a version to live with like a comfortable piece of furniture, exquisitely made yet designed to become ever more integrated with your life the more familiar with it you become, the more you use it, so to speak. Ravishing performance!