I was able to pick up Francine Kay’s Analekta recording of Debussy’s first book of Preludes, and assorted short works, for only $2 plus shipping, so I figured why not? I can’t say that this is a great recording, but at the same time I wouldn’t mind finding more.
Three traits dominate: 1.) Oppressively close microphones; 2.) Slow tempi; 3.) Wonderful tonal palette. Regarding the second item: Ms Kay takes a leisurely approach to all of the pieces, and for the most part it works. Nothing is rushed, of course, and everything flows. There’s no blocky playing in the Preludes, and everything sounds predictably beautiful. Sure, an eight minute The Engulfed Cathedral may be pushing things, but she maintains musical tension throughout. In fact, the extra slow tempo allows her to build up the tension until she pounds, but not hammers, out the loudest passages. Alas, the close microphones allow one to hear too much of the effort involved. The same holds true for other pieces. Also holding true for all of the works is her tonal palette. Nary a wisp of metal is to be heard. Everything is lovely. Perhaps not Bavouzet lovely, but lovely nonetheless.
The short works don’t fare as well. The Ballade, Masques, Reverie, and L’Isle Joyeuse all suffer from other maladies. The first is even closer miking than the Preludes! One can hear not only the pianist’s efforts clearly, but also the piano’s inner working. Oops. Kay’s playing is less fluid and graceful sounding as a result, and her generally slow tempi don’t work as well. At times it’s all trees and no forest; the musical line is lost. It’s blocky. Only L’Isle Joyeuse works at all.
So, a partly good and partly bad disc, hardly the thing that makes one want to hunt down every recording by an artist. That written, I did some snooping and learned that Ms Kay recorded both books of the Preludes for a Canadian micro-label, and that it was recorded using minimalist miking techniques – a single stereo pair in a small church. That may be worth sampling.