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Alide Kohlhaas
The Seniors Review, October 2013

For Claude Debussy admirers there is a fine recording of his Pelleas & Melisande Symphony, as well as “Nocturns” “Claire de lune,” and various etudes by the Naxos label. The music is performed by Orchestre National de Lyon with conductor Jun Markl. It is just the right kind of music to lighten up the winter gloom a bit. © 2013 The Seniors Review

James Miller
Fanfare, July 2009

…one heck of a good performance of the Nocturnes. I liked them enough to order Volume 1, which includes the Afternoon of a Faune, La mer, and the Children’s Corner suite [8.570759].

Tempo wise, I would describe them as, on the whole, slower than the norm, although some of that is due to a slow and seductive “Sirènes”…Märkl, aided by a deep, full recording, seems to lean toward an “atmospheric” approach, perhaps inevitably. The stereo spread is wide and the various instruments are easily pinpointed without seeming to be spot-miked. You may hear a few things you’ve never noticed and miss a few details you are accustomed to hearing. The orchestra plays well and I have no complaints about the singing of the women of the MDR Radio Choir…Unless you count André Caplet’s conventional but pretty enough orchestration of “Clair de lune,” the rest of the CD is devoted to novelties, only one of which is pure Debussy. That would be the oddly named Berceuse héroïque, originally written for piano and then orchestrated by Debussy. Although intended as a tribute to King Albert and the Belgians, this “heroic cradle song” could be seen as a tribute to all the sleeping dead of World War I’s battlefields. With its general air of gloom and mysterious fanfares, it is a rarity in Debussy collections. Märkl stretches it out a bit, but preserves the gloomy atmosphere and loses not a whit of mystery…Debussy seems to have accepted or even approved orchestrations by Henry Büsser and André Caplet. What he would have thought of the various efforts of Ernest Ansermet, Piero Coppola, Percy Grainger, William Gleichmann, Bernardino Molinari, Maurice Ravel, Leopold Stokowski, and others, I can’t guess, and he might have been astounded by Michael Jarrell’s orchestration of the Études Nos. 9, 10, and 12. I certainly find them astounding, but in the most delightful way—technical etudes turned into orchestral fireworks displays. I’ll confess that I actually prefer them to the piano originals, and hope he gives the treatment to more of them, while staying away from the more picturesque stuff…Naxos has provided very detailed annotations and good sound and I look forward to Volume 3.

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide, May 2009

June Märkl and the Lyon National Orchestra are apparently now embarked on a survey of Debussy’s orchestral music for Naxos. Lawrence Hansen praised the first installment by Märkl and company, which gathers La Mer, Afternoon of a Faun, and Jeux on Naxos 8.570759, for its “world-class playing” and spacious but detailed sound. In interpretation Märkl hews to tradition, getting an idiomatic “Impressionist” sheen from his orchestra.

For the second installment Märkl has programmed several seldom-heard items to go along with the ever-popular Nocturnes and André Caplet’s familiar orchestration of Claire de Lune. Chief among these is the 26-minute “symphony” that Marius Constant (a Romanian conductor and composer) put together from the orchestral interludes of Debussy’s 1902 opera, Pelléas et Mélisande. It doesn’t turn up on records often, though there is an earlier Supraphon CD with Serge Baudo conducting. The music is lush but shadowy and introverted, now dreamy and mysterious, now aglow with veiled majesty. The listener easily imagines the opera’s pale figures moving with stately sadness through a haunted medieval forest toward a pre-ordained doom. It’s all very picturesque and evocative—but also almost entirely in slow tempos, with little overt drama except one climax fourth-fifths of the way through, and with little differentiation between sections. The result feels, to me, more like superior background music than a symphonic composition that benefits from the listener’s full attention—music for daydreaming, so to speak. People more attuned to Impressionist mistiness and sumptuous tone-poetry will find this more fulfilling.

Another unusual offering here—possibly a first recording?—is a selection of three of Debussy’s etudes for piano—IX, for repeated notes; X, for opposed sonorities; and XII, for chords—in 1991 orchestrations by Michael Jarrell. These together form a logical fast-slow-fast sequence, though I’m not persuaded that any of them really come off as symphonic compositions…Debussy, who was by no means content to remain an Impressionist, intended his etudes to have a somewhat cerebral and “objective” character; and Jarrell’s sensuous orchestral dress feels like an aesthetic violation to me. Others will no doubt enjoy the richness and timbral variety. Chacun a son gout. Everything here (including the Nocturnes) is expertly and sensitively played and very well recorded. Don’t hesitate if you find this repertoire tempting.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, March 2009

A friend of mine mentioned recently that there were precious few original orchestral works by Debussy. So many of them were either orchestrations of piano works or had had their orchestrations completed, or undertaken, by other hands. He’s right—there’s only the Nocturnes, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, La Mer, Danse sacrée et danse profane and Images, and a couple of smaller pieces. On the other hand, there’s a list as long as your arm of orchestrations and arrangements by others, ranging from Caplet and Büsser to Colin Matthews, Niels Rosing Schouw, John Barbirolli, Hans Zender and Robin Holloway. It is to be hoped that this Debussy series—this is the second volume of the orchestral music [Vol 1- 8.570759]—will embrace the various versions made by others.

This disk makes a very good start on the arrangements with Marius Constant’s Symphony, based on music from Debussy’s only completed opera. Mainly using the instrumental portions of the score Constant has fashioned a large-scale piece, which is fascinating. It makes me sad that I cannot, and have never been able to, enjoy the stage work. There is real symphonic growth in this piece, and as the work progresses there’s tension and drama. It makes one wish that Debussy had written a Symphony of his own for the development in this work shows how his mind worked and how he could bring together the right material for such a project. It also proves just how symphonic Pelléas et Mélisande really is. This is a major addition to the small catalogue of orchestral works of Debussy and it receives a fine performance here, which will, I hope, win it some friends. Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why the name of Marius Constant is so familiar, it’s because he is the composer of the famous theme music to the TV series The Twilight Zone.

The Nocturnes is one of Debussy’s first major orchestral achievements. The three movements are mysterious, fantastic and elusive. Nuages is a depiction of clouds, but it’s not cloudy music in any way, more a depiction of the sky as they pass over. Fêtes is a carnival day with a procession coming from afar —a dazzling, fantastic vision as the composer put it—and taking over the scene before being swallowed into it. The final movement, Sirènes, is a picture of the sea with a wordless female chorus singing an alluring song but being gradually left behind, and not bringing us to grief on the rocks. There is stiff competition in this work, not least from Ansermet, Boulez, Haitink and Martinon and Monteux, but Märkl directs a very good performance, perhaps missing the last ounce of subtlety and not quite making the most of the procession in Fêtes but these are small matters. This is a very satisfying performance indeed.

The other pieces require little comment. Berceuse héroïque is a rather un-Debussyian piece, a reaction to the war and dedicated to “His Majesty King Albert I of Belgium and his soldiers”. Caplet’s orchestration of Clair de lune is a delight and the three Études orchestrated by Michael Jarrell, a Swiss composer born in 1958, work rather well for orchestra…I have no reservations about this disk. It’s well worth having and the Pelléas et Mélisande Symphonie should be heard by all lovers of this endlessly fascinating composer.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, March 2009

Orchestral colours are bright and crisp in this impressive impressionist collection

This second collection of Debussy's orchestral music that Jun Märkl has recorded for Naxos with the Lyon National Orchestra, of which he is music director, is an intriguing mixture. The two major items here are the set of three Nocturnes, central to Debussy's output, and the substantial symphonic suite from Pelléas et Mélisande that Marius Constant put together using almost entirely the opera's evocative orchestral interludes. Märkl's performance is warm and idiomatic, and the only reservation is that almost inevitably there is rather a lack of contrast in music that moves slowly. It is nonetheless a valuable item, adding to the outstanding performance of the three Nocturnes which is the high-point of the whole collection. The first, "Nuages", is supremely evocative with refined strings and a cor anglais solo that stands out in the terracing of textures. "Fêtes" is richly seductive in its bright picture of crowds on the Bois de Boulogne at holiday time. The passage where one hears a procession from afar on muted trumpets is wonderfully achieved, with crisply precise triplets leading up to a powerful climax before fading away again. The longest of the three Nocturnes, "Sirènes", brings a vital contribution from the Leipzig choir attached to the other orchestra with which Märkl is associated, the Leipzig Radio Symphony. Their chording and ensemble is flawless. The Caplet orchestration of the piano piece "Clair de lune" is probably the best- known item, beautifully wrought and here given a sumptuous performance. The Berceuse heroïque, written as a tribute to King Albert of the Belgians in the First World War, is similarly evocative, with its distant fanfares and its climactic reference to the Belgian National Anthem. The three Etudes, orchestrated by Michael Jarrell as recently as 1991, represent a different approach; a degree sharper, appropriate enough for some of Debussy's most advanced music, and pointing forward to a new generation of composers. A richly satisfying collection, immaculately recorded, with its full measure of rarities.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, February 2009

Three fine orchestrators give us a most welcome addition to the near-perfect output of Claude Debussy. These are 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 due to its general lack of catchy tunes and the tendency of French texts to be extremely wordy. It nonetheless possesses 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 excellent. 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 Héroïque, 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 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. This disc is well worth the effort.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

This second volume in Naxos’s new cycle of Debussy’s orchestral works is largely devoted his music in arrangements. Jun Markl’s concern for refinement and discreet illumination of subtle textures becomes immediately apparent in his conducting of Marius Constant’s ‘symphonie’ created from purely orchestral music in the opera, Pelléas et Mélisande. It concentrates on the translucent qualities of the score and the shimmering textures that I particularly love. You would have to look elsewhere if your view of Nocturnes is painted in primary colours, Merkl’s approach being cool and elegant, the procession passing by in the second section, Fêtes, so perfectly gauged as it begins and ends in the distance. One of his last best known piano pieces, Clair de lune from the Suite bergamasque is played in its now familiar orchestration by André Caplet, and in a recent translation for orchestra by Michael Jarrell, we have three of the Douze Etudes for piano. I say ‘translation’ as they seem harmonically to update Debussy, though the twelfth makes a quite invigorating conclusion. Berceuse héroïque, in the composer’s orchestral orchestral garb concludes a very well filled disc. Throughout the Orchestre National de Lyon is splendid, the shimmering sounds produced from the limpid woodwind section being quite exquisite. For my taste the wordless chorus in the last section of Nocturnes, sung by Leipzig’s MDR Radio Choir,is too close and positive, but otherwise this is unfussy engineering that offers a natural and pleasing perspective of the orchestra.

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