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Music Review : Paul Crossley Surveys Debussy Preludes

November 11, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

Does it take a character to perform a character piece?

The question arose when British pianist Paul Crossley--gainfully employed in our parts of late--surveyed the 24 Preludes of Claude Debussy Wednesday at Gindi Auditorium, in a Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society concert.

Each of these Preludes, you may remember, bears a descriptive title--sometimes a mood or a poetic thought, or the name of a person or place--which Debussy captures with swift, Impressionistic brush strokes. Much of a listener's enjoyment comes from the recognition of how fitting Debussy's music is in evoking "Mists" or "Footprints in the Snow" or "General Lavine--eccentric."

Crossley, on this occasion, proved a bit clerkish for the job. He used such large gobs of sustaining pedal (not sanctioned by the composer), blurring details, muddying harmonies, that it came as a relief when he let up. His dynamic range and coloristic palette seemed smallish, his attacks not sufficiently varied, his phrasing lumpish when it should have been singing. Certain technical passages sounded more approximated than nailed.

Forgivable faults, perhaps, had the magic been conjured. But one missed the Spanish swagger necessary to "La Puerta del Vino," and the arching grandeur of "La cathedrale engloutie" rising from the sea. Debussy's "Dead Leaves" (to be played "slow and melancholy") became merely Crossley's "Plants That Need Watering" (medium tempo). Was that "General Lavine--eccentric" or was he just mildly amusing? In the pianist's hands the exquisitely dancing fairies sounded as if they had eaten a heavy dinner.

Crossley had his successes--"Hommage a S. Pickwick, Esq." and "Minstrels" both had quirkiness and edge--but these were sporadic. Mostly, he seemed the wrong character for the part.

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