Booklet annotator Piero Rattalino makes an impassioned and eminently justifiable case for the early piano works of Debussy; Korean pianist Ilia Kim echoes him in sound. Some of these pieces aretoo often seen as curios, reserved for illlustrated talks, or recitals in piano festivals. But they are far more than completist fare, as Kim reveals,
The first piece, though, is famous to everyone who has learned the piano to some agree: what Rattalino calls “the absolute masterpiece of pre-Raphaelite Debussy,” the Suite bergamasque of1890. It contains one of Debussy’s most famous pieces, “Claire de lune,” heard here in a simply beautiful performance (and caught well in Dynamic”s recording) by Kim (click the link for the YouTube).
One could quote each movement, for Kim brings life and individuality to each, a definite freshness to the “Menuet,” for sure, but also listen to the lovely staccato touch, perfectly formed, of the final “Passepied”:
The rich combination of the archaic with the softer pastel colours of Impressionism is most impressive in this piece, and Kim”s performance is stunning.
The 1892 Nocturne is, as Rattalino puts it, “a piece of theatrical inspiration with an oriental atmosphere: the plaintive song of a European woman locked in a harem alternating with the faraway, exotic song of another woman of the seraglio, an ori- ental one”. The piece is absolutely ravishing, and listening to the use of different modes in that alternation is a revelation. Kim tells the story magnificently. The recording is fabulous - worth mentioning as hearing this through speakers reveals the true depth of her sound:
The Images oubliées are exactly that - forgotten. Until 1977 that is, although they were composed in 1874, although the central “Souvenir du Louvre” appeared, with minor changes, as the “Sarabande” in Pour le piano (heard later in the disc). The first of the set is wonderful, and beautifully rendered by Kim. Marked “Lent (mélancholique et doux)” (Slow, melancholic and sweetly), it has no title, but shines in its pastel, yet luminous, harmonies:
Kim’s technique in “Souvenir du Louvre” is brilliant, as is the sheer range of piano colour she achieves (we knowthe disc was recorded in Lugano in 2021 and 2022, but there is no mention of which piano Kim uses):
The final Image oubliée is “Qualques aspects de ‘Nous n’irons plus au bois‘,” which uses a theme (a French folksong) also used in Estampes (in the “Jardins sous la pluie” movement).:
It is tempting to think of Debussy as drenched in pastel, but Kim shows the falsity of this in the contrast between her performance of the dreamy Rêverie of 1891 and the far stronger opening of the “Prélude” to Pour le Piano. If the ecstatic chords of that prelude seem a touch studio-bound, there is real dignity and grace to thar central “Sarabande” (a reworking of that piece we heard earlier). It is in the final “Toccata” that Kim truly shines, her understanding of Debussy’s workings complete:
Finally, another lesser-known piece, the Danse bohèmienne. Dating from 1880, this is the earliest piece by Debussy we know. Kim, to her credit, treatsit wilth all the love and respect she pours into the better-known, later works and tehpiece benefits emormously. The characterful, contrasting melody is particularly lovely:
Of course, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's series of Debussy on Chandos remains a major part of my collection, and he included some of these earlier pieces in a memorable Wigmore recital in October, 2021 (review). ut Kim’s disc remains an outstanding buy. She is a real talent, and one I would like to hear more of.
At only £11.25 at Amazon, Ilia Kim’s disc is a bargain.