Debussy Meets Disklavier

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

At its best, high-definition player piano technology can sound nearly as persuasive as the real thing. For example, I’ve been happy with many Steinway & Sons releases stemming from the Spirio reproducing piano software files system, not least my own recordings! The Yamaha Disklavier has been around for a much longer time, yet has taken longer to reach comparable levels of refinement in regard to accuracy of dynamics, pedaling, articulation, and the like.

Although Magdalena Baczewska makes it clear that her Debussy performances are Disklavier-derived, they don’t sound mechanical, for the most part. However, the close-up microphone placement and overall brightness lack the color and timbral dimension that typify Baczewska’s piano sound in a concert hall. In fact, Frederic Chiu’s Disklavier recordings of Images Book I and the Estampes boast more tonal allure and warmth. Be that as it may, Baczewska’s intelligent musicianship is always apparent.

By playing the opening movement of Estampes (Pagodes) straight, Baczewska emphasizes Debussy’s polyrhythmic design, rather than rounding off and softening the edges as many pianists tend to do. While La soirée dans Grenade’s soft music never dips below mezzo-piano, at least Baczewska captures the habanera rhythm’s sultry ebb and flow. In Jardins sous la pluie, the repeated patterns often sound jerky and misaligned. I suspect that the technology is the culprit, because Baczewska plays this piece more evenly and fluidly live.

No technical problems get in the way of her sweeping arpeggios and rapid runs in the Images. Poissons d’or abounds in flighty humor, while Baczewska times the brooding opening chords of Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut like a seasoned actor, continuing to sustain an evocative mood throughout. It goes without saying that Baczewska’s Images will not displace Michelangeli, Aimard, and Bavouzet, nor will her Estampes usurp Moravec and Richter. I know that, you know that, and I think Baczewska also knows that. Still, it’s good that this pianist is again showcasing her talent on disc.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Debussy On 5th Avenue
Reference Recording: Images Books I & II: Michelangeli (DG); Aimard (Warner), Estampes: Moravec (Supraphon); Richter (DG)

  • Magdalena Baczewska (piano)

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