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Classic FM, August 2005

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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, October 2004

Franco-American pianist François-Joël Thiollier has been working his way assiduously through the French repertoire in his indefatigable way for Naxos. He has recorded the complete Ravel and Debussy (of which this disc is part and is a Best Of). Surveys of d’Indy, de Falla and Franck are also to his name. Added to this is his repertoire of eighty concertos. So a name to be reckoned with—but what about his Debussy?

Let’s face up to a fairly insurmountable problem for those wanting an all-round recommendation. This is one of the most cavernous acoustics I think Naxos has ever given us and I’m afraid it vitiates Thiollier’s virtues. The sensitively projected La plus que lente doesn’t quite survive the swirling air; nor can Le petit negre be etched with as much incision and wit as it might—attacks are blunted. Yes, the Toccata still sounds well and there is concentration and introspection in Reflets dans l’eau. He is certainly not above rhythmic quirks that may strike one as playful or obtrusive (I tend to go for the latter). It’s a pity that he has been done down by the recording because he is an astute colourist and technically fine. But in general he doesn’t strike me as quite the Debussy pianist that Zoltan Kocsis is—and if you want a representative collection—an old friend I know—you should seek out Gieseking’s four CD set.

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