Debussy Preludes, D'un Cahier d'esquisses, Children's Corner, Clair de lune – Nelson Freire
Preludes, Book 1, D’un cahier d’esquisses
Children’s Corner, Clair de lune (from Suite bergamasque)
Nelson Freire, piano
63:17 minutes, Full price, Decca 4784111
by Jon Yungkans
Hearing Nelson Freire’s Debussy, you realize the difference between music that is merely performed and music that has been internalized to become a part of that person’s being. Freire credits Debussy’s music for sparking his love for the piano, and it shows. Warmer than Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, less mysterious and fearsome than Krystian Zimerman, Freire’s playing radiates a gentleness and familiarity that fill every note. The effect is not unlike hearing two old friends in a conversation, comfortable even when highly animated, and rapt when more relaxed. His La cathedrale engloutie is easily the most magical this side of Walter Gieseking, with the perfect touch of mystery, and while his Puck may dance less sarcastically than Zimerman’s, his Delphic dancers are sultry and languorously seductive. The differences are so much in speed (Friere is actually faster than Michelangeli and Zimerman) as in color and inflection. If Freire’s approach is ultimately more tropical than Mediterranean and less differentiated between individual preludes than Zimerman or Michelangeli, it is still highly satisfying.
Zimerman offers both sets of preludes (on two discs). Michelangeli offers Book One of preludes and both books of Images. Freire gives us a relative rarity with D’un cahier d’esquisses and the Children’s Corner suite. While the suite on the whole is done extremely well, it is the quieter pieces such as Jimbo’s Lullaby and Serenade for the Doll that stand out most. Others may find more humor or lightness in Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, and The Snow is Dancing feels more like a warm rainstorm than a chilly snowburst. But overall, it is the gentleness of Friere’s approach that stands out, as though he were telling children’s tales with simple dewy-eyed wonder. A pellucid Clair de lune from Suite bergamasque rounds out an excellent program.
Even if you own a set of Debussy preludes, Freire’s would make an outstanding addition to any collection. As revered as he has been in Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, he is truly on top of his game here, and it is not very often that you hear music played with this much love and devotion, much less played extremely well.