The modern world has a surfeit of soulless super-virtuosi, the doyen of whom is arguably Marc-Andre Hamelin, it therefore comes as something of a surprise to find that this is a magnificent Debussy recital. In the first of Images (Reflets dans l’eau) the opening sounds like crushed velvet, the right-hand then becomes harder to portray the waters glistening reflections, within a slow basic speed there is tempo variation, and the arpeggios that preface the return of the opening motif are beautifully voiced. From Images II, Cloches and Et la lune are slow, with an exquisite range of tonal shading and pedal-control and but for the gap you would be hard-put to tell where the one ends and the other begins, which is surely what the composer intended.
One can only call the first of the Préludes rapt, where every note can be heard, yet the texture is seamlessly fluid, the control of micro-dynamics masterly. Hamelin imparts a sense of questioning unease as opposed to the marked melancholy in the second, which works extremely well, and in Bruyères one again notes the subtle tonal, dynamic and tempo variation. When it comes to power Hommage's opening reference to God Save the King has it in spades with absolutely no degradation of tone, while Feux d'artifice features dazzlingly crisp finger-work and massively resonant bass chords. Yes these performances are about technique, but it is only ever used—as it should be—for expressive purposes, they exude a quiet air of authority and contemplation, which is profoundly satisfying, and as such stand comparison with the finest ever recorded.
If the performances stand comparison with the best, then Andrew Keener and Simon Eadon have captured—by some distance—the finest digital sound currently available in these works. The overall balance is nicely middle-distance, being a studio 24bit master there is a true sense of ambience and space around the piano, which has real presence—as opposed to the totally unnatural digital void you get with compressed 16bit CDs—and the timbre of the instrument is vividly caught, The recording also allows one to appreciate the extensive range of tonal shading Hamelin uses and his pedal control, which means the performances come to life more than in the 16bit equivalent silver disc (a borrowed copy of which was used for comparison). As you would expect there is exceptional detail and clarity, no register dominates and the dynamic range is also excellent—although to get a truer idea of what a piano sounds like in the flesh you need DSD native, which Hyperion don't use—nonetheless this is magnificent, demonstration quality sound.