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DEBUSSY // The 24 Preludes

Philippe Bianconi,

Philippe Bianconi has achieved recognition as one of France’s most accomplished instrumentalists despite his reluctance to embrace the capital. The interpretion of French music has always been of great importance in his repertoire.

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“Debussy has always been part of my life” says the pianist about the composer so close to his heart.
Discophiles have been impatiently awaiting his recording of the towering Préludes, but Philippe Bianconi has taken his time before entering the studio to capture what he calls “the quintessence of Debussy’s art”. Beneath his fingertips, which conjugate a profound attention to detail with an irresistible poetic imagination, the art ofClaude de France reveals all its riches and its startling modernity.

The enchanting sonorities and the density of Philippe Bianconi’s interpretation make his new CD a major addition to the list of great versions of the Préludes, enhanced by the exceptional sound quality of the recording itself, to which the pianist has devoted particular attention.


24 PRELUDES (Books I & II)

  • Danseuses de Delphes 2’46
  • Voiles 3’32
  • Le vent dans la plaine 2’05
  • Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir 3’31
  • Les collines d’Anacapri 3’05
  • Des pas sur la neige 3’45
  • Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest 3’23
  • La fille aux cheveux de lin 2’18
  • La sérénade interrompue 2’37
  • La cathédrale engloutie 6’00
  • La danse de Puck 2’53
  • Minstrels 2’23
  • Brouillards 2’42
  • Feuilles mortes 2’52
  • La Puerta del Vino 3’15
  • Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses 2’56
  • Bruyères 2’34
  • Général Lavine – eccentric 2’35
  • La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune 4’17
  • Ondine 3’01
  • Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq PPMPC 2’25
  • Canope 2’31
  • Les tierces alternées 2’36
  • Feux d’artifice 4’23


« GREAT! » - Fanfare

Since winning the silver medal at the 1985 Van Cliburn competition, the French pianist Philippe Bianconi has enjoyed an active international career and, along the way, collected impressive praise from music critics and audiences alike. Although this is my first encounter with his artistry, I have no trouble understanding Bianconi’s success: He has a refined, luminous sound that never turns

A lyrical artist whose personality never attracts attention to itself, Bianconi is at his best in Debussy’s contemplative works—most notably “Voiles,” “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir,” “Des pas sur la neige,” “Feuilles mortes,” and “Les terrasse des audiences du clair du lune.” In these works, Bianconi clarifies Debussy’s mysteries but, correctly, never quite resolves them, and impresses with his hypnotic pacing, intelligent pedaling, and remarkable control of dynamics. I am equally impressed with his somewhat unorthodox take on “La Puerta del Vino” and “Feux d’artifice,” which are delivered with uncommon refinement and sensitivity. My only reservation concerns Bianconi’s treatment of some of the most extroverted scores, for instance “Les collines d’Anacapri” or “La danse de Puck,” where a certain sense of whimsy and humor appear to me to be missing. Put differently, ever the serious artist, Bianconi seems slightly out of his element here.

The quality of the recorded sound is excellent. Bianconi plays a beautifully-voiced Yamaha concert grand. Pianos made by this Japanese maker have a lot of detractors, but the best of them are no doubt world-class instruments. While he will not displace my affection for Samson François, Steven Osborne, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, and Sviatoslav Richter, Bianconi obviously has much to say about this repertoire. I doubt that anyone who hears this disc will forget his insights.

Philippe Bianconi: the smouldering passion under the ivory


It is from Italy that he takes his name and the passion concealed within him, which gives him his vibrancy when he is on stage. The passion that overwhelms his audience. Italy sings in him with the colours of its language, so familiar to him, of its Mediterranean exuberance in which his childhood was bathed. But it was in Nice that Philippe Bianconi was born and raised, and it was France that moulded him. Which is why artist and man alike are a blend of poise and ardour, discretion and inner flame, clothed in an elegance and a luminosity that may be read in his presence, in his eyes, and can be savoured when he is at the piano.

As a young man, he progressed by leaps and bounds, propelled into international competitions by Pierre Cochereau as soon as he left the Nice Conservatoire. His career path was marked out from the day he entered the class of Simone Delbert-Février, a student of Marguerite Long and Robert Casadesus. ‘Sing!’, ‘Listen!’: even today, he can still hear the injunctions of that refined, enthusiastic woman, stirred by an inner fire, and he utters them in his turn to the students he trains at the École Normale de Musique de Paris. On the byways of those early years, he met Gaby Casadesus: with her he put the finishing touches to the purity of style, the clarity of musical expression he had cultivated since the start of his musical education. With the Russian pianist Vitalij Margulis, he found that density of sound which is his alone, and drew from the innermost recesses of the text, from the depths of the harmonies, that expressiveness which he always places at the service of meaning. And then: two birds with one stone! Having won First Prize at the Robert Casadesus Competition in Cleveland, then Second Prize at the Van Cliburn Competition, he triumphed at Carnegie Hall, and his American career was launched . . . Then came Europe, France, the world, in recital or alongside today’s most eminent musicians. And, still following in the footsteps of Gaby and Robert Casadesus, but also of Nadia Boulanger, it was only natural that he should succeed Philippe Entremont as artistic director of the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau for five years.

In concert, the vibration of the air when silence fills the hall is precious to him, liberating and inspiring. He sometimes takes on the most incredible challenges, such as playing the two Brahms concertos in one evening. When he returns to his corner of paradise somewhere in the south, between the sea and the mountains, he remembers his youth, his parents who took him to the opera, and the love for the voice that he felt at a very early age and that will never leave him. He remembers Hermann Prey, whom he met at the age of twenty-two, and Schubert, who brought them together on record and, for eight years, on the great stages of the world, the Wigmore Hall, La Scala, Munich, New York . . . Then his piano sings, breathes, becomes body and soul. And Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, not to mention his beloved French masters, Debussy and Ravel, in sublime abandonment, confide the secrets of their treasures to this musician-poet.

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