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A timely release, given Barenboim’s recent Schubert series in London and the publicity accorded to the Barenboim- Meane concert grand piano (see news on page 8 and review on page 62). This film was previously released on DVD as Entre quatre-z-yeux, inspired by the composer’s stated intention that his Préludes be listened to and performed privately in suitably intimate surroundings. The performances are introduced by quotes from Debussy and his contemporaries, as well as by Barenboim himself.

Barenboim has always been an eloquent speaker, and this is no exception – in fact his comments are rather more appealing than his performances. The sound itself is rather shallow, and the Steinway in a rather small space seems out of place. The filming is often beautiful – golden sunlight through windows during ‘Danseuses de delphes’ invokes sepia (a reflection presumably of ‘landscapes at a distance’ that Barenboim describes). Other visual additions, however appealing, illuminate less (two women playing chess in ‘Des pas sur la neige’) and the general impression is that on repeated viewing the impact fails because of lack of interpretative depth. Inevitably we see wind (in the grass) in ‘Le vent dans la plaine’, and there are images of Spain for ‘La sérénade interrompue’.

Unfortunately, technically Barenboim is not the equal of more illustrious rivals such as Zimerman, Bavouzet or Michelangeli in ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest’, his ‘Puck’ fails to invoke that spirit’s elusive world and he rarely achieves a Debussian transparency of sound.

Some bonus items, encores from a recital in Buenos Aires, are all pleasant enough, much like the main offering.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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