It is perhaps necessary to place Saskia Giorgini's admirable new Debussy recital in a wider context. This brings me immediately to Walter Gieseking, more closely associated with Debussy than any other great pianist. His very name sends me spinning back in time when, as a teenager, I listened to a treasured recording of the early works (the 'Nocturne', 'Tarantelle styrienne' etc,) and finding myself enveloped in a cloud of perfume drifting through the window from the syringa or mock-orange blossom of a neighbour's garden was made aware of how in Debussy more than any other composer the senses become inseparable; a form of synaesthesia. Many years later that fusion of sound and scent has stayed with me. 

   As a corollary, one of my earliest possessions was a ten-inch 78 record of 'Jardins sous la pluie', again from Gieseking. I recall walking through my father's garden, the music in my head, aware of flowers drenched in rain drops before being transformed into rainbows in a sudden burst of sunlight. I both heard and saw this natural phenomenon. Even at an early age I became aware of Debussy's declaration, ' I love music passionately. And because I love it, I try to free it from the barren traditions that stifle it,' his wish for a 'gushing forth, an open air boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea...' Here is that quintessential belief enshrined in what has aptly been called 'the Debussian revolution.'

   A literary equivalent comes from Virginia Woolf in her idiosyncratic belief that 'life is not a set of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged, life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task for the novelist (to which I add, composer) to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit...with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?'

    Returning to Gieseking and to those early works, once again the years dissolve and I am to an even greater degree made aware of recreation transcending creation, of music given a higher value than its original worth. Compared to the impressionism of the 'Images' and 'Estampes' they nonetheless acquire an evanescent magic through Gieseking's genius.

   But musical approaches and attitudes change more rapidly than is commonly supposed. The French, for example, have never fully forgiven Gieseking's acclaim in Debussy. He may have been French- born but he was a German pianist, placing him outside a once jealously guarded tradition. Gieseking was hardly a product of the Paris Conservatoire. Adding insult to injury his playing inspired a comparison with Monet's Gardens of Giverny. Offended by the opalescent haze Gieseking cast over Debussy they found themselves longing for greater clarity, for a greater sense of underlying structure. Yetthe finest French tradition, exemplified by Robert Casadesus, shows both the virtues and limitations of the outlook, a tendency to alternate between conviction and authenticity with literalism. Again, and bearing in mind the many years that have passed since Gieseking's fifties recording, you will hear a radically different approach from other nationalities, from the Polish pianist, Krystian Zimmerman, whose performance of the 24 Preludes, with its crystalline sonority and superfine care for detail, take the French approach several stages further, an insistence on sunlight rather than mist.


Which brings me to Saskia Giorgini, and what is surely among the finest of all recent Debussy recitals blending the traditions mentioned above with a wholly contemporary but never less than beautiful sense of compromise. Comprehensive in her choice of works, and crossing from Debussy's promise to fulfilment and, finally, to virtuoso exultance, her playing is immaculately groomed; never a hair(note) out of place. She is perky in the hyper- active whirl of  'Tarantelle styrienne', subtly coloured and inflected in the 'Nocturne,' with its memory of Chopin and  glance at Faure. She has all the necessary sultry feel for 'La Soirees dans Grenade,' Debussy's evocation of Andalucia, the gypsy Spain that he had never visited but which made even Manuel de Falla, Spain's greatest composer, envious. In 'Reflets dans l'eau'(Images, book 1) Giorgini's opening (marked tempo rubato) is as free as it is natural, making you redefine the term as a form of musical breathing, a lazy languorous progression memorably caught. The there is the desolation lingering behind ' Cloches a travers les feuilles', its funeral bells tolling from All Saint's Day to All Soul's Day, resolved in a final autumnal descent of a potent and haunting melancholy. 'Poisson d'or(Images, Book 2) is all  fins, gold and sunlight and the programme ends with a 'L isle joyeuse' that is powerful and sonorous, notably in the Bacchanalian close,  quite without the distraction if memorable distortion of Horowitz's celebrated orgiastic reading. These are performances of a model grace and refinement recorded in sound as warm and fluid as the playing. Saskia Giorgini has contributed her own personal note and, not withstanding her superb earlier Liszt recording, she makes you long to hear her in further Debussy.