CLAIR DE LUNE Pressler 4798756

. . . Pressler's latest effort is a typically stunning display of virtuosity and sensitivity, rendered all the more impressive by the sheer longevity of his career . . . these French crowd-pleasers are given new interpretations by one pianist who has certainly heard his fair share of them over the years.

This programme of French piano music is . . . like receiving a box of liqueur chocolates, the contents of which have been extravagantly sourced from rare vintages . . . [this] is the sort of recording that invites us to beg, borrow or steal the scores and learn from Pressler's example. You can of course just lean back and enjoy, but I suspect even casual listeners with even a passing familiarity with some of this repertoire will be forced to pay attention. Pressler's "strict respect" of Debussy's markings can result in some effects we're not used to hearing today. There is for instance a staccato (separated) notation over the chords at the beginning of "Danseuses de Delphes" which sounds very different to any recording I've previously heard. Similar is true of the opening to Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante défunte"; a demonstration of how to play with limpid and lyrical tranquillity while observing pointillist dryness at the same time. It will be intriguing to hear if this has any effect on future performers keen on striving for authenticity. This programme is full of details like this . . . These French pieces are all works for which he clearly has deep feeling and a lifetime of experience. Making comparisons with other recordings seems misplaced in this case, as this is more the type of experience from which we each undergo our own little transformation and move on, educated and appreciative. Other pianists can see if they measure up to something like Pressler's magnificent "La cathédrale engloutie", which is as moving and rich in imagery as any I've come across. The piano sound is close, but rich and clear. There might have been a case for giving a little more distance to help these impressionist sounds blend, but at the same time it seems equally valuable to be up close and personal, and able to hear exactly how the magic is done.

. . . [ce qu'on entend] c'est une musique comme seuls les plus grands pianistes savent la jouer: un phrasé souverain, un chant ininterrompu, une expressivité pure de tout excès, et surtout, un toucher infiniment délicat, varié à l'infini. Le minutage intimidant de certaines pièces ("Voiles dure" cinq pleines minutes, "La Cathédrale engloutie" près de huit) n'est pas le fait d'une lenteur outrancière, mais d'un poids accordé au silence, d'une absence de hâte, d'un calme qui n'abolit jamais la tension narrative, et qui nimbe ces classiques debussystes d'une lumière vespérale, d'un halo de bonheur paisible, profondément touchant. Ces pièces -- le "Clair de lune", "La fille aux cheveux de lin", en particulier -- rayonnent toutes d'une même qualité: une vraie liberté. Pas la liberté calculée et ostentatoire de la tête brûlée qui ne donne un coup de pied à l'institution que pour mieux s'en faire adouber, mais la liberté de celui qui n'a plus rien à prouver. Il n'est pas question pour Pressler de servir de référence, de marquer l'histoire de l'interprétation, mais simplement de jouer une musique qu'il aime viscéralement, de laisser s'exprimer la sensibilité qu'une vie entière a nourrie en lui (et quelle vie, avec combien de joies et d'épreuves!) . . . Puissent les pianistes de vingt ans s'inspirer d'un maître si sage, et conserver à sa suite l'authentique jeunesse: c'est toute la postérité que l'on souhaite à Menahem Pressler.