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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

An Interesting Collection of Debussy's Orchestral Music

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Pelléas et Mélisande (Symphonie, arr. Marius Constant) [25:05]
Clair de lune (orch. André Caplet) [4:34]
Nocturnes [25:26]
Berceuse héroique [4:55]
Trios Etudes (orch. Michael Jarrell, 1991) [13:31]

Orchestre National de Lyon
MDR Radio Choir, Leipzig
Jun Märkl

Recorded at the Auditorium de Lyons, France, 15-20 July 2007, 15-19 January 2008, and 11-12 February 2008.

NAXOS 8.570993 [74:09]

Three fine orchestrators give us a most welcome addition to the near-perfect output of Claude Debussy with these well-crafted arrangements of music from the opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and of four piano works, one ubiquitous and three slightly more obscure. Throw in the popular Nocturnes, and the lesser heard Berceuse, and you get over an hour of delicious listening.

Debussy’s only opera, a dreamy medieval tale of love, betrayal and tragedy, sees far too little daylight really. This is perhaps in part to its general lack of catchy tunes and the tendency of French texts to be extremely wordy. It does, nonetheless, possess page upon page of lusciously gorgeous music, particularly for the orchestra. Rumanian composer Marius Constant has taken a sizeable portion of Debussy’s thematic material to create this Symphonie, an engaging work, full of rhapsodic gestures and subtle harmonies. Mr. Constant is a more than capable orchestrator, but it is always difficult to put yourself into another composer’s head, and as such, we still miss a tad of Debussy’s remarkable originality. The music however is lush and lovely and it is a good thing to hear some of Debussy’s ideas in this form.

Little need be said about Claire de lune. Its beauty speaks for itself. Caplet’s orchestration is sensitive and colorful and does nothing to detract from the original.

The centerpiece is the Nocturnes. These masterpieces of orchestration were originally intended as solo violin works for Eugene Ysaye, but Debussy later decided that the orchestra was their preferred home. Thanks be to God! Jun Märkl leads well paced and finely balanced performances here and the Lyon orchestra obviously knows its way around the literature. One might have wanted a bit more shimmer from the strings, but in all this is an excellent reading. Few recordings top the stunning readings by Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra or Charles Dutoit and the Montreal band in the music of Debussy and Ravel, but Märkl leads quite acceptable performances. The women of the MDR Radio Choir of Leipzig deserve a special mention for their hauntingly beautiful wordless singing in Sirens.

The disc is filled out with the Berceuse Héroique, a seldom heard little gem, and three selections from Debussy’s homage to Chopin, the Twelve Etudes for piano, deftly orchestrated by Michael Jarrell. These arrangements work quite well indeed and successfully bring out some interesting colors in the harmony that might be missed in the piano versions. They are a fitting ending to an interesting collection of works. This disc is well worth the effort.

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