Fair-To-Middling Debussy Etudes

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 7

The Debussy Etudes seem to be recorded more frequently these days, and not just on account of 2018’s Debussy centenary. As a consequence, the competition is strong and the stakes are high. Élodie Vignon’s etched finger-work and dry-point articulation evoke the kind of French School pianism characterizing Etude cycles from Jacques Février, Michel Beroff, and Anne Queffelec. However, her interpretations are only fair to middling, and are generally hampered by a limited dynamic range.

Slightly cautious tempos and transitions in Pour les cinq doigts, for example, undermine the music’s whimsy and exultation, while her tendency to taper phrase ends gets a little generic throughout Pour les tierces. She handles No. 3’s scurrying fourths well, and creates an appropriately sexy atmosphere in No. 4, albeit without Mitsuko Uchida’s beguiling legato. Her rapid notes in Pour les huits doigts yield to Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s breathtaking evenness and control. While she captures the proper spark of No. 7’s diverse chromatic patterns, No. 9’s repeated notes are heavy and prosaic. Despite some small pedaling issues at the climax, Vignon’s pacing and harmonically-oriented timing throughout No. 10 make a profound effect, just as her playing falls flat in the final two pieces.

Following the etudes, speaker Clara Inglese recites 12 poems in French by Lucien Noullez. Each poem respectively corresponds to each etude, and Vignon underscores the readings with appropriate musical snippets. The booklet provides the poems’ texts in the original language, but without translations, leaving curious non-French speakers in the lurch.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Mitsuko Uchida (Philips); Ju-Ying Song (Pro Piano); Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Chandos)

  • Élodie Vignon (piano)

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