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Sinfini Music, August 2014

This first disc in a Debussy series was one of those that started to prove that Naxos meant business and could compete with the more established majors—one critic hailed it as possibly the finest Debussy on record. © 2014 Sinfini Music

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2008

…fine, solid performances all around, and in excellent recorded sound. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

American Record Guide, September 2008

Naxos subtitles their release "Orchestral Works 1", so it is the opening salvo in another Compleat Cycle. Markl and his players acquit themselves admirably, and as one-stop shopping for some of Debussy's most engaging orchestral works (even if Children's Corner was actually orchestrated by Andre Caplet), it's hard to beat. Why do so many conductors insist on recording Afternoon of a Faun? The piece is pure, static atmosphere; this performance is as good as any I've heard. Markl makes Children's Corner a little too sober and studious. It's not without charm; but more playfulness, high spirits, and whimsy would be welcome. The Lyon ensemble turns in some world-class playing. The slightly cool recorded sound is spacious without losing detail.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, August 2008

Märkl’s up against very stiff competition – Ansermet, Barbirolli, Boulez and Martinon to name but a few – but he’s his own man and gives us his own view of the music.

The Prélude is very well done. The solo flute is suitably sensuous, and is ably complemented by the solo oboe. Also, I have never heard the two solo violins, at the end, sound quite as winsome as they do here. The big tune in the middle is allowed to expand as it should and the delicate final pages, with slightly too reticent antique cymbals, is well controlled.

La Mer is almost as fine a performance. Starting very mysteriously, Märkl builds up the tension until the music bursts forth with animation. It’s a fine achievement. However, when the second part of the first movement begins, with cellos in eight parts, it’s too reticent and lacks the momentum required to push the music forwards. When Satie first heard this movement, From Dawn to Midday on the Sea, he quipped that he especially enjoyed the bit at a quarter to eleven. Strange as this may seem I think I know the moment he means – at four bars after rehearsal number 13 there is a static section where cor anglais and two solo cellos play a long breathed theme over sustained chords, it’s a magical moment which prepares us for the build up to the climactic final bars. Märkl makes these few bars quite magical and the calm is quite stunning. The coda is well built but the final three chords – which should beat us about the head with their power – fail to completely satisfy. The scherzo, Play of the Waves, is too heavy handed and the important colouristic glockenspiel part all but inaudible. The tension and suspense of the final movement, Dialogue between the Wind and the Sea, is very well done. The climaxes are well developed and the changes of mood and tempo very well handled. There is one strange moment – at rehearsal number 53 the horns play a triplet, followed, in the next bar, by two minim chords. In this recording we are treated to an extra triplet chord! I’ve played this moment several times, thinking my ears were deceiving me, but no, it’s there, an extra triplet beat. As it’s an exact repeat of what they played six bars earlier I’m mystified by what happens. Why is this extra chord there and what is the purpose? I doubt it’s an editing error so the conductor must have heard it as the horns played the passage. Curiouser and curiouser. Better news is that four bars after rehearsal number 59, under the big chords for winds and strings, Märkl plays the brass fanfares which, more often than not, are ignored by conductors as not being in a real Debussy style. Perhaps they are somewhat unsubtle for Debussy, and for this moment, but without them the music suddenly stops dead, it seems empty, something has to be played there and if these fanfares are all we have then we have to have them. It’s a good performance but it lacks that final insight, that ultimate injection of energy which makes the Hallé/Barbirolli recording so memorable and compelling.

Jeux is one of Debussy’s most elusive scores (it was his last orchestral work). It’s a ballet which concerns a lost tennis ball and a boy and two girls who look for it, as they play hide and seek, try to catch one another, quarrel and sulk without cause. Their games are interrupted when another tennis ball is mischievously thrown in by an unknown hand which surprises and alarms them and they disappear into the nocturnal depths of the garden. The story isn’t important. Debussy’s music is. It receives an excellent performance here – Märkl fully understands what is going on in the music and leads his players through the myriad tempo changes, keeps the ever changing orchestral colouring alive and generally makes clear music which so often sounds confused and muddled. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer performance on disk.

André Caplet was a close friend of Debussy and worked on the orchestration of the latter’s incidental music for Gabriele D’Annunzio’s play Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien and the ballet La Boîte à joujou. He also made two, superb, reductions for two pianos, four hands and six hands, of La Mer, and made orchestral transcriptions of several piano works. Children’s Corner is a delightful six movement suite for solo piano; it’s light hearted, full of fun and several of the movements have become popular independently of the suite – The Little Shepherd and Golliwog’s Cake-walk in particular. Caplet’s orchestration has always struck me as being rather heavy handed – odd for so skilful an orchestrator – but here he has met his match with perfect piano music which does not lend itself to orchestration. Märkl does his best but, ultimately, it’s still too heavy and much of the humour is lost.

Apart from Jeux, which is superb, I would not put these performances of La Mer and the Prélude ahead of other recordings which are currently available - those conductors listed above - but they are very serviceable and if you’re on a tight budget, or just wanting to dip your toes in the Debussian water for the first time, then at the bargain price you’ll get much from these atmospheric readings.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

Naxos’s new cycle of Debussy’s orchestral works is making an auspicious start with the young German-born conductor, Jun Markl, direction the Orchestre National de Lyon.

His performances avoid the affectations encrusted over recent years on the seascape, La Mer, and the languid Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, both scores drawing detailed playing that catches the shimmering colours of Debussy’s impressionist pictures. I know some will miss those oft used dynamic exaggerations, at the end of the first and last pictures of La Mer that bring impact but lack subtlety. The solo flute in the Prelude should have been credited on the sleeve for playing of outstanding beauty, the tempos pressing forward more than we often encounter. The ballet Jeux I particularly adore, and here those shifting harmonies are gorgeously realised. I am less certain of Caplet’s arrangement of Debussy’s piano work, Children’s Corner. The results are never less than delightful, but it does not sound like Debussy’s orchestral writing. Again we have to admire the inner details that are revealed by an orchestra well versed in their national music. The sound does not look to the spectacular, but offers a natural perspective, though there is one quirk when the volume of the final track seems to go up by a notch.

Classic FM

Jun Märkl’s intuitive expertise brings out the essence of the French master’s music.

Debussy intended Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune to be evocative of ‘the successive scenes in which the longings and desires of a faun pass in the heat of the afternoon’, and Jun Märkl creates a deeply sensual, headily intoxicating soundscape to match. His supple handling of phrasing, rhythm, texture and dynamics coalesces into ecstatic sequences of tantalising poetic suggestion, while the ultra-sensitive playing of the Lyon Orchestra is captured by engineering wizard Tim Handley as though it were being experienced through a shimmering heat-haze.

No less remarkable is Märkl’s handling of the three ‘symphonic sketches’ that constitute La mer, throughout which he hypnotically translates the play of light on the water into musical sound so exotically enticing that it feels as though one could reach out and touch it.

Even bearing in mind classic accounts by Karajan (DG), Haitink (Philips) and Cluytens (EMI), this is bewitching music-making that should on no account be missed. Perhaps most revelatory of all is Jeux, an incandescent ballet score that emerges here as one of the miracles of 20th-century orchestral music. Märkl even manages to make André Caplet’s game transcription of the solo piano Children’s Corner suite sound like an original. One of the finest discs Naxos has ever released. © Classic FM

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