...which is quite a mouthful considering that it was released in 1971, long after the "Golden Era" of virtuoso pianism had ended. But with the so-called "mad genius of the keyboard" known as A.B. Michelangeli (1920 - 1995) at the helm, it became a huge winner both for Debussy and Deutsche Grammophon, as well as for the world of recorded music at large. As a matter of fact, this was one of the most swiftly and unanimously praised albums to come out of "The Little Yellow Flower" label's catalog. Indeed, Michelangeli's Debussy garnered such instant recognition that even the earliest pressings left the factory having their jackets already affixed with numerous gold stickers trumpeting the disc's critical prize-winnings. Among these were the Edison Prize (United States), the Prix du Disq (France) and the Deutscher Schall Platten Preis (Germany).
Despite Michelangeli's justifiably deserved reputation for delivering the goods in performances of Ravel and Rachmaninov's piano concertos, his Scarlatti and Brahms, and occasional flashes of brilliance with the standard lineup of titanic composers, this Debussy solo piano album is possibly the most repeatedly enjoyable offering from his rather small recorded legacy. Michelangeli comes as close to "owning" these pieces as have any of the legends more celebrated or strongly linked to the interpretation of the French repertoire, foremost being Gieseking, Casadesus and Moravec. Yes, it's almost regrettable to say it, but this album is likely to move into the front-runner position in your collection, even if you've gotten used to some old tried-and-true favorites. It is a fairly indisputable fact that nobody has ever played nor ever again will play Debussy like Walter Gieseking did in the 1930s; but distant, scratchy monaural sound does not constitute a benchmark for most modern ears. This album does.
Which brings us to the sound. The stereo taping was a well-engineered room-filler with just the right touch of reverberation. No single channel is overbearing in tone or timbre, and harshness, even in the more volatile passages of the second Images book, is a non-existent detriment. Mind you, this album never exactly had the presence of an RCA shaded dog, but the quality is more than adequate. As for the transfer, this was an early vinyl-to-CD jump dating all the way back to 1987. (It is also the only Michelangeli on DG which remains in print, attesting to its popularity lo, these many years.) Consequently, you will find that it neither deviates from the original analog tapes, nor does it quite come up to the vinyl pressing's standard. In other words, it's like 99% of the compact disc re-issues out there; not great but pretty darned acceptable. Luckily, it's hard to foul up solo piano recordings, as there isn't much to lose in the transfer. Not to mention that DG's vinyl pressings of the 1970s were pretty flimsy affairs, and hardly audiophile candidates. A decent CD player is going to bring this classic through A-okay.
At any rate, you'll be too entranced to notice anything else but keyboard artistry at an exceeding standard. Add this one to the top of the pile, and never regret it; here is one of Claude Debussy's shining hours. There can be no mystery as to how the album remains a slice of perfection to this day when you consider the reclusive, inscrutable pianist's own words from the original LP liner notes: "Asked when it was that the tonal world of Debussy's had disclosed itself to Benedetti Michelangeli, he answered without the slightest hesitation: `It has always been my world; this music has always been my music from the very start.' "