The immense musicianship and pianistic refinement distinguishing Steven Osborne's Alkan and Messiaen recordings for Hyperion stunningly inform what may be the reference version of Debussy's Preludes for years to come. From the very beginning you sense the pianist's innate affinity for the levels of nuance and transparent textures that help define the composer's sound world. Furthermore, Osborne's attention to detail often raises interpretive standards to new levels. In Danseuses de Delphes, Osborne projects the register shifts between melody and chords in clearer perspective than most pianists are able to sustain, and he circumvents Voiles' whole-tone harmonic stasis by steadfastly adhering to Debussy's multi-leveled variety of articulations. This applies as well to Le vent dans la plaine, where the rapid repeating patterns attain an almost superhuman evenness (ditto for Feux d'artifice).
At first Osborne seems to keep Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest's tumultuous directive in check, but that's only because the big crescendo in measure 5 should not telegraph the cutting impact Debussy intends when he introduces a sudden sforzando in measure 10. This is a classic example of when critics hear something unusual in familiar music, that it means that the performer is being faithful to the score, as opposed to "tradition"! Another case in point concerns Ondine, where Osborne's firmly held pulse fortifies the triple-meter dance feeling other pianists unwittingly obscure, not to mention Debussy's "scherzando" marking.
Not surprisingly, Osborne is up to date on textual niceties. In La cathedral engloutie, he adopts the unmarked yet implied tempo changes Debussy made in his 1913 Welte-Mignon piano roll, and likewise follows Roy Howat's recent Durand edition by inserting an implied missing bar toward the conclusion of Les tierces alternées. By now it's clear that this beautifully engineered release has few serious catalog rivals and easily ranks first among modern versions that fit both books of Debussy's Preludes onto a single disc. A triumph! [10/27/2006]
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com