Aimard's standard-repertoire performances - Schumann's Symphonic Études and Debussy Preludes Book II - became revisionist by accessing out-of-fashion performance practices. In Debussy, Aimard took cues from the pre-World War II sense of French national identity, when the notes weren't a springboard for all manner of pianistic wizardry but were clearly defined, both individually and collectively, with interpretive insights trailing behind.
Such an approach makes you reevaluate the music more on its own terms - without the formal packaging that's so easy to impose on Debussy after hearing Ravel. Here, Debussy was a gentle anarchist, moving ever farther away from tonic/dominant harmony. When not satirically quoting "God Save the Queen," Debussy was nearly as atonal as Schoenberg. Aimard embraced the music on that level with a concentration that allowed you to hear it without previous points of reference, almost forcing you to be with the music completely in the moment.
Schumann didn't go smoothly - intentionally. Aimard exercised a 19th-century freedom with tempo that allowed him to find multiple musical events in unlikely places (like mere left-hand accompanying figures), enriching the music immeasurably. He found a sensible place to insert the five posthumous études (after No. 7), though the cerebral clarity of his playing revealed the inferiority of those études. Aimard's Schumann wasn't always so good. Years back in Princeton, he seemed to probe Carnival for a tone row that wasn't there. Now, he modernizes Schumann by looking back.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at email@example.com.