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The bulk of this new disc of Debussy piano duets dates from his early years, the exception being the Six épigraphes antiques (1914/15), one of a series of extraordinary, visionary works – including the chamber sonatas – from his final years (coinciding with the Great War). The economy of the writing in the épigraphes, with every note carefully weighted for maximum effect (yet seemingly with minimal effort), contrasts vividly with the three works from the 1880s, all written when the composer was in his 20s and using a much richer, stylistically impure language.

The earliest is the Première suite d’orchestre (1882-1884), the manuscript score of which was discovered only a few years ago and published in 2008. Its lively four movements show an apprentice composer flexing his creative muscles in a fairly standard French late-Romantic style. Even this early in his career, Debussy was adapting standard classical forms to his own ends. In the central ballet, one hears – perhaps for the first time in his output – exoticism and ‘rêve’. The contrast with the familiar Petite suite is striking: by then, Debussy had learned the value of restraint!

Armengaud and Chauzu make a very effective duet, alive to the music’s varying indulgence and – in the épigraphes – severity of expression. Naxos’s sound is crystal clear, if a little fiercely bright (compared, for example, with Duo Benzakoun’s Debussy two-piano disc for Integral, which does not duplicate any items here).

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing