Hungarian Debussy -- oxymoron or something else?
Something else. Although it may seem unlikely at first, Hungarian pianist Zoltán Kocsis is one heck of a Debussy player. Of course, he's not a Walter Gieseking Debussy player -- he nails the notes -- nor a Pascal Rogé Debussy player -- he lifts the pedals -- nor a Jean-Yves Thibaudet Debussy player -- he's more concerned with the meaning of the music than he is with showboating. So what kind of Debussy player is Kocsis? To start with, he's supremely skilled. He can play anything Debussy throws at him, from the nuanced sonorities of La Cathédrale engloutie to the extravagant virtuosities of L'Isle joyeuse. But that's the least of his talents. More importantly, Kocsis' is sublimely sensitive. He understands and expresses the flickering emotions of Jardins sous la pluie, the subtle colors of Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût, and the intimations of mortality in Canope. But that, too, is a lesser talent. Most importantly, Kocsis' is absolutely lucid. Everything -- everything, everything -- in the music is at all times audible. Listen to his Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, listen to the shading of his harmonies articulated as gleaming arpeggios, to the clarity of his melodies articulated as shimmering lines, to the inevitability of his tempos articulated as a series of waves rising to a luminous climax. No matter what other player you've heard tackle Debussy, Kocsis will reveal aspects of the music you've never heard before -- and reveal them as essential elements that even the greatest Debussy players have heretofore inexplicably missed. Filled out with equally superb recordings of Debussy's Fantaisie pour piano et orchestre plus Ravel's Piano Concerto accompanied by the equally Hungarian and nearly equally skilled Debussy-interpreter Ivan Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Kocsis' Debussy collection should be heard by everyone who loves the composer. Recorded over 15 years from 1983 through 1998, Philips' piano sound is a translucent window between the listener and the performers.