Debussy's absence from Marc-André Hamelin's recorded repertoire has always struck me as a shame, the more so when one considers that Hamelin's pianistic style comprises exactly the right combination of colour, imagination and precision of touch. The present disc, which consists of captivating interpretations of the two collections of Images alongside the second book of Préludes—recorded in London in 2011 and 2012 respectively—is thus particularly welcome.
The hallmarks of Hamelin's style are always in evidence, and the clarity with which the polyphonic aspects of Reflets dans l'eau come through gives a sense of momentum rarely perceived in this piece. Indeed it is the lack of impressionism in Hamelin's playing which guarantees the effectiveness of Debussy's impressionistic whimsies. Restricting himself to the lightest of pedalling, and refusing to smooth over the tilted rhythms, one is less aware of rippled surface, more aware of what or who, might be disturbing it.
The Préludes are also handled superbly. The second book's acknowledged masterpieces, such as La terrasse and Feu d'artifice, are predictably compelling, as is the half glimpsed darknesses of Brouillards. More surprising, perhaps, is the way the more 'characteristic' pieces, such as General Lavine and Hommage à S Pickwick emerge so clearly, the sharp atmospheric contrasts captured with the slightest of gestures. Yet Hamelin keeps the coloristic and structural aspects in balance. If this invites comparison with Michelangeli, then it is not a comparison by which Hamelin suffers.