It is 100 years since the death of Claude Debussy in 1918. It may have seemed at the time that the inimitably French, impressionist style he established would prove to be of less importance than the powerful ongoing musical traditions of Germany and Italy, but that is not how it looks now. Hardly any new contemporary work today passes without acknowledging some aspect of Debussy’s hugely influential exploration of texture, colour and atmosphere.
There will be many anniversary tributes throughout the year. Stephen Hough is getting in early with this all-Debussy piano disc, based on works he has been playing in recitals over the past few years.
It is surprising there has not been more of him in Debussy on disc. Anybody who has caught Hough in a live recital, or heard his scintillating recordings of Saint-Saëns’s piano concertos, will know how well the sparkling clarity of French music suits him.
A well-balanced selection embraces most of Debussy’s larger works for solo piano outside the two books of Préludes and the Études. The triptych of Estampes sets the tone with clear, atmospheric playing, given an extra warmth in Hyperion’s perfectly judged recording (it is hard to tell that two different recording venues were used over the course of the disc).
In the two groups of Images the reflections in the water ('Reflets dans l’eau') present a warm, impressionist wash of sound rather than the chiselled precision of a pianist like Michelangeli. The snowflakes in Children’s Corner fall with the softest delicacy. The delight in L’isle joyeuse is less exhilaration than joy at the radiance of a sun-soaked atmosphere. La plus que lente, played with affectionate simplicity, makes a nicely light-hearted bonus.