DEBUSSY: Preludes Book I. Images I. Images II.
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, pianist
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON "Originals" B0004028 (M) (ADD) TT: 72:49
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DEBUSSY: Petite Suite. Marche écossaise. Six épigraphes antiques. Lindaraja. En blanc et noir. Prèlude à l'après-midi d'un faune. 2 Nocturnes. RAVEL: Sites auriculaires. Ma mère l'oye. Frontispice. La Valse. Rapsodie espagnole. BIZET: Jeux d'enfants, Op. 22. DUKAS: L'Apprenti sorcier.
Jean-Philippe Collard/Michel Béroff, pianist
EMI CLASSICS "Gemeni" 86510 (2 CDs) (B) TT: 77:36 & 75:07
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RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G. Concerto in D for the Left Hand. Sonatine. Valses nobles et sentimentales.
Monique Haas, pianist; RTF National Orch/Paul Paray, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON "Originals" B0004030 (M) TT: 64:05
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LISZT: Ballade No. 2 in B minor. Tarantelle di bravura. Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104. Sonetto del Petrarca No. 123. Valse oubliée No. 1. La campanella. Feux follets. Ricordanza (Earl Wild, pianist). Paysage. La Chasse. Waldesrauschen. Gnomenreigen. Rhapsodie espagnole. Isolde's Liebestod. Réminiscences de Norma. (David Wilde, pianist). Hexaméron. Valse infernale from Meyerbeer's Robert le diable. Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (Sylvia Kersenbaum)
EMI CLASSICS "Gemeni" 86522 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 74:53 & 78:09
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ALBÉNIZ: Iberia. La vega. Yvonne en visite! (La réverence!/Joyeuse rencontre et quelques pénibles événements!!). Espana: Souvenirs (Preludio/Asturias). Navarra (completed by William Bolcom)
Marc-André Hamelin, pianist
HYPERION CDA 67476/7 (2 CDS) (F) (DDD) TT: 62:01 & 63:56
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CHOPIN: Études, Op. 10. Barcarolle, Op. 60. Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 "Funeral March."
Nelson Freire, pianist
DECCA B0004410 (F) (DDD) TT: 57:03
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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's 1971 recording of Images and 1978 recording of Preludes have been hailed as near-definitive, released on CD may times often at full price. Now, in their Originals series, DGG offers these remarkble performances at mid-price, a set not to miss. More Debussy of quality is EMI's reissue of all of the composer's works for piano duet and two pianos—and Ravel's as well—with Michel Béroff and Jean-Philippe Collard, recorded over a period of 14 years beginning in 1980. This is a valuable set for many reasons, and EMI graciously has filled out the two CDs with other works of interest: Bizet's Jeux d'enfants and Dukas' L'Apprenti sorcier, both in the composer's own versions for two pianos. Habanera from Sites auriculaires is listed in the booklet but, because of CD time limitations, is heard only as the third movement of Rapsodie espagnole—it's the same music. In the brief (1:45) Frontispice written for two pianos and one hand, the fifth hand is provided by Katia Labèque. Remarkable value here, and at budget price. Another DGG Originals CD offers the famous 1965 recording of Ravel's two piano concertos plus the Sonatine and Valses nobles et sentimentales played by one of the leading French pianists of her time, Monique Haas (1909-1987) who had studied with Robert Casadesus, Rudolf Serkin and Georges Enescu. At the time of the recording of the concertos, Haas had been performing both in Europe for a decade to wide acclaim.

The Liszt 2-CD set is worth having just for Earl Wild's recordings made in 1973, when he already had been giving virtuoso performances of varied repertory for more than three decades, including his live1942 performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony. In the '60's he made many superlative recordings for The Reader's Digest including concertos of Chopin, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns, as well as his near-definitive set of all of Rachmaninoff's works for piano and orchestra with the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Jascha Horenstein. As of this writing, the extraordinary pianist has recovered nicely from major heart surgery and is preparing for a series of concerts this fall, including one in Carnegie Hall, to commemorate his 90th(!) birthday. The EMI set is filled out with performances by David Wilde and Sylvia Kersenbaum, fine pianists but not in Earl Wild's league. It seems odd that EMI didn't fill out this 2-CD set with Liszt recordings by Gyorgy Cziffra or other major league pianists in their catalog.

Marc-André Hamelin's contniues to amaze with his incredible virtuosity coupled with supreme musicianship. Albéniz said when he composed Iberia he had taken "españolisimo and technical difficulty to the extreme," and almost destroyed the score as he felt it would be impossible to play. How fortunate we are that he didn't! This Iberia challenges the historic versions by Alicia de Larrocha, and as bonuses we have the pieces listed above including William Bolcom's completion of the unfinished Navarra. The recordings were made in London's Henry Wood Hall in April and August 2004 engineered by Simon Eadon. I find the sound a touch over-resonant. This is a pricey set, but well worth acquiring.

Nelson Freire continues his Decca Chopin recordings these superlative performances. He, of course, tosses off the manifold difficulties of the Op. 10 Études with the greatest of ease, and it's always a pleasure to hear him. But why so little music? This full-price scantily-filled disc contains less than an hour of music, and as has often been mentioned on this site, one doesn't need the SACD process for superb piano sound.

R.E.B. (July 2005)