Claude Debussy (1862–1918) is regarded as one of the most prominent and influential composers of the early twentieth century. His musical language suggested new paths to be further explored, while his poetic and sensitive use of the orchestra and of keyboard textures opened still more possibilities.
This year Naxos celebrates the 150th anniversary of Debussy’s birth by concluding its cycle of the composer’s complete orchestral works, available both as seven individual volumes and as a 9-CD boxed set (with two CDs containing Colin Matthews’ orchestrations of the 24 Préludes – not available separately). As a bonus, we are happy to present an additional, new volume featuring the 24 Préludes orchestrated by the celebrated composer and arranger, Peter Breiner.
Debussy completed his two books of Préludes in 1910 and 1913 respectively, and they contain some of his most visionary and poetic writing for piano. There are evocations of calm seascapes, delicate wind tracery, and snow-covered landscapes. Some moments are steeped in antiquity, such as La cathédrale engloutie, others in expressive portraiture, as in La fille aux cheveux de lin. There is even a cake-walk. The Préludes are performed here in the subtle and colouristic orchestrations of much-admired Slovak-born composer Peter Breiner.
Listen to an excerpt from La fille aux cheveux de lin:
About the Artists
Peter Breiner is one of the world’s most recorded musicians, with over 150 CDs released and record numbers sold both as albums or online streams. Known as a conductor, pianist, arranger and composer he has conducted, often doubling as a pianist, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Mozart Orchestra, Hungarian State Radio Orchestra, Nicolaus Esterhazy Orchestra Budapest, Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra, Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Capella Istropolitana, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra National de Lille, France, and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, among many others.
Some of his most acclaimed recordings include Beatles Go Baroque and Elvis Goes Baroque representing the collections of his commercially most successful Baroque arrangements together with Christmas Goes Baroque I and II. His arrangements of national anthems of all participating countries were used during the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. More recently, the world premiere recording for Naxos of his own arrangements of Janaček’s Six Operatic Suites with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and himself conducting earned tremendous acclaim, Gramophone stating “Splendid disc…conducted with passion and sympathetic understanding…” the Chicago Tribune adding “Breiner fills the void with beautifully crafted symphonic suites based on the music of Jenůfa”.
Jun Märkl was Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon from 2005 to 2011 and Principal Conductor/Artistic Advisor of the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony to 2012. He has appeared as a guest conductor with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Cleveland, NHK Symphony, Tonhalle Zurich, and the Munich, Oslo and Czech Philharmonics among others, and at the Met, Covent Garden, Vienna State and Dresden Semper Operas. He also enjoys a close relationship with the NHK Symphony with which he conducted the first Japanese Ring cycle in Tokyo. Born in Munich, Märkl studied initially with Sergiu Celibidache and Gustav Meier, then at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. His first music directorships were at the Staatstheater in Saarbrücken and at the Mannheim Nationaltheater. He went on to become Permanent Conductor of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, a position he held until 2006.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was formed in 1891 as the Scottish Orchestra and became the Scottish National Orchestra in 1950. It was awarded Royal Patronage in 1991. Throughout its history, the orchestra has played an important part in Scotland’s musical life, including performing at the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament building in 2004. Many renowned conductors have contributed to its success, including Walter Susskind, Sir Alexander Gibson, Bryden Thomson, Conductor Laureate Neeme Järvi, Conductor Emeritus Walter Weller, Conductor Emeritus Alexander Lazarev and Stéphane Denève. The 2012/2013 season marks the appointment of the British-Canadian musician and conductor Peter Oundjian as Music Director and Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård begins his tenure as Principal Guest Conductor. The orchestra has a worldwide reputation for the quality of its recordings, receiving the Diapason d’Or de l’année for Symphonic Music (Denève/Roussel, 2007) and eight Grammy® Awards nominations over the last decade. Over 200 releases are available, including the complete symphonies of Sibelius (Gibson), Prokofiev (Järvi), Nielsen and Martinu° (Thomson), Roussel (Denève) and the major orchestral works of Debussy (Denève). The RSNO is one of Scotland’s National Performing Companies, supported by the Scottish Government.
Debussy was one of the most important and influential composers of the early twentieth century. This recording features two of Debussy’s most harmonically innovative and imaginatively orchestrated works. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) evokes a pagan world, as the faun of the title takes his ease in the afternoon shade on a summer day. The three symphonic sketches that constitute La mer (The Sea), inspired partly by Katsushika Hokusai’s famous colour woodcut The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, offer subtly nuanced evocations of the sea from dawn to midday, of the waves and of the dialogue of wind and sea.
Debussy’s orchestral works are much loved for their exquisite orchestrations, poetically nuanced harmonies and almost magical evocations of time and place. He achieved his first significant success in 1900 with Nocturnes , which portrays in three movements clouds reflected in the sea, holiday festivals in the Bois de Boulogne and the fatally seductive song of the Sirens. The Pelléas et Mélisande Symphony was derived by Marius Constant from the orchestral episodes of Debussy’s famous opera, while the Trois Études are heard in a revealing orchestration of the piano originals by the contemporary Swiss composer, Michael Jarrell.
The music of three nations—Britain, Spain and France—inspired Debussy’s Images for orchestra, which occupied him from 1905 to 1912. Originally conceived for two pianos (Images I and II for solo piano are on 8.550253), this third set draws on several folk songs in its outer movements, the tripartite middle movement evoking in musical terms Spanish sights, sounds and fragrances. Vivid orchestrations by the composer or admired colleagues of short piano pieces likewise embrace contrasting moods and national characters. Volumes 1 (8.570759) and 2 (8.570993) in this series have been highly praised.
The fourth volume in Naxos’s highly praised series of Debussy’s Orchestral Works presents music drawn from three of his theatrical ventures and from one of his Prix de Rome entries. The prelude, fanfares and four symphonic fragments from Le Martyre de SaintSébastien were taken for concert performance from Debussy’s incidental music for Gabriele D’Annunzio’s scandalous mystery play. While rarely heard today, the ‘danced legend’ Khamma, set in ancient Egypt, and incidental music for Shakespeare’s King Lear, provide suitably atmospheric music, as do the Cortège et air de danse from The ProdigalSon, the cantata which gained Debussy the Prix de Rome in 1884.
Volume 5 of Naxos’s acclaimed series of Debussy’s orchestral music presents a potpourri of works that were either left incomplete by the composer or were orchestrated by others who greatly admired his music. His rarely-heard children’s ballet The Toy Box, dedicated to Debussy’s daughter Emma-Claude but not premièred until after the composer’s death, recalls the innocent world of his popular Children’s Corner suite. Based on Pierre Louÿs’ Chansons de Bilitis, Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques evoke poetic scenes from the ancient world, as does the sole surviving portion of The Triumph of Bacchus.
Jun Märkl’s exemplary interpretations of Debussy’s orchestral music have been praised for their ‘subtle and sensitive readings’ (Gramophone). ‘This is bewitching music-making that should on no account be missed…One of the finest discs Naxos has ever released’, declared Classic FM of Volume 1 (8.570759). Volume 6 in Naxos’s popular series presents five highly diverse works in gorgeous orchestrations by Debussy’s colleagues or later admirers. Indeed, pieces such as Clair de lune and Printemps may even be better known in these seductive guises than in their original forms. Of particular interest is Debussy’s sole attempt at composing a symphony, a youthful work imbued with the spirit of French Romanticism, only the first movement of which he completed.
An important marker in Debussy’s compositional development, the Fantaisie reflects something of the influence of César Franck’s Symphonic Variations yet embodies his own new aesthetic. Unpublished in Debussy’s lifetime, it is heard here in its 1968 revision. The delicately evocative Rapsodie for saxophone is an exotic work with an ‘oriental’ atmosphere and Spanish or Moorish associations. Although composed as a Conservatoire test piece, the Première Rapsodie for Clarinet has long since entered the repertoire as an important addition for the instrument. The glittering Danses for harp and strings recall Satie’s Gymnopédies, with the Danse profane in particular calling for a degree of virtuosity. Volume 6 of this much-admired series (8.572583) was praised for its ‘subtle and sensitive readings’. (Gramophone)
This collection contains all Debussy’s works for orchestra as well as many orchestral arrangements of his piano music. Together these display a rich panorama of Debussian sound and a remarkable insight into the composer. Established arrangements by Debussy’s contemporaries, including Ravel and Caplet, are complemented by more recent arrangements from composers such as Colin Matthews and Robin Holloway. The conductor Jun Märkl believes that Debussy ‘set up a model of orchestration for the rest of the twentieth century’ and it is with this conviction that he draws from the Orchestre National de Lyon such ‘world-class playing’ (American Record Guide).