Paul Corfield Godfrey
, April 2012
This set is…more than comprehensive, including a considerable number of arrangements and orchestrations by Debussy’s friends and colleagues as well as many by more modern composers. It also includes two pieces of juvenilia which have only been prepared for performance more recently. This set of recordings is therefore important for its completeness alone, but it has other claims to our attention as well.
…the performance of L’après-midi d’un faune which opens the first disc is an absolute stunner. It immediately arrests the listener with the very slow and languorous flute solo and the crystal limpidity of the orchestral response. The piece is thoroughly re-imagined and approached with a freshness which is as delightful as it is unexpected. The modernity of the writing which so startled first audiences is brought vividly to life…everything that we hear is just what the composer put into his innovatory score, and nothing is obscured. The orchestral phrasing is lovely…This is an unconventional performance, but thoroughly convincing…It is rare indeed that a new recording of a very well-known masterpiece makes the listener sit up and say “yes, that’s it!”—but that is exactly the effect this performance had on this reviewer.
The performance of La mer also starts slowly and atmospherically, but soon gathers momentum…The recording again enables one to hear everything. Debussy’s often unconventional orchestration comes across superbly. The notorious passage for sixteen divided cellos in the first movement is…clearly and precisely delivered. The Jeux de vagues is like crystal, with unexpectedly touches of delicacy…the harp towards the end is distanced to perfection.
Jeux is given an ultra-clear performance which reminds one of a super-precise Boulez. The orchestral performance here is intensely alive and responsive.
The performance of the Nocturnes is gloriously atmospheric. Nuages has a properly amorphous sound, with some admirable phrasing in the opening phrases which could to advantage be even slower; but the flute solo towards the end is given plenty of time to breathe and expand. Fêtes explodes with some wonderfully vital playing and the recording exposes every detail analytically, like a newly cleaned painting.
Any performance of the Images has to be measured against Monteux’s incomparable reading from the early 1960s…but Märkl is most certainly not an also-ran. The opening of Gigues is less impressionistically atmospheric than Monteux, but it has plenty of spirit and verve as well as a nice line in rubato. Ibéria sparkles delightfully, with explosive castanets, and the trombones at the end which are rather muffled under Monteux come through nicely here.
The symphonic fragments from Le martyre de Saint Sébastien have the correctly distant air at the beginning…Le bon pasteur is gorgeous, allowing the music to breathe naturally and the response by the strings to the opening cor anglais give just the right sort of frisson. This is stunningly beautiful music which is still too little appreciated…
The final CD of the set brings together Debussy’s various concertante works, and in the early Fantaisie the pianist is Jean-Yves Thibaudet, no less. He gives a heartfelt performance of this piece of juvenilia—incorporating Debussy’s later changes to the score from the revised 1968 edition—which almost persuades one that the work would have received as many performances if it had been by another composer. Märkl and the orchestra support him with just the right sort of generalised romantic sound. The other works on this disc are mature Debussy, and are given good readings here.
…the performance of L’après-midi is a controversial must-hear. The rarities which are included are most invaluable and make this collection highly desirable. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review