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Charlotte Gardner and Jenny Houser
WQXR (New York), February 2018

The 20 Essential Debussy Recordings

Jun Märkl directed the Orchestre National de Lyon between 2005 and 2011, and in that time he recorded Debussy’s entire orchestral catalogue. Chief among the set’s interpretational draws is the bright, shiny luminosity of the orchestral sound, and its orchestrations of some of Debussy’s lesser-spotted piano works. The teenage Symphony in B-Minor from 1880, for instance: a teeny-tiny work lasting only three movements and 11 minutes, scored originally piano duet. Its orchestrator here is no less surprising either, because it’s the modern American TV composer Tony Finno, and he’s done a thoroughly idiomatic job. Then there’s En blanc et noir, the sparkling, darting, two-piano suite Debussy wrote in 1915, which here appears glitteringly orchestrated by British composer and Debussy expert Robin Holloway, known for his own music’s sparkling textures. The orchestration of the Suite bergamesque comes courtesy of Debussy’s admired and trusted orchestration collaborator, composer and conductor Andre Caplet. Likewise Debussy’s contemporary Henri Busser orchestrated Petite suite and Printemps. © 2018 WQXR (New York)

Barry Forshaw
Classical CD Choice, February 2012

When the great orchestral masterpieces of Claude Debussy are so copiously recorded, it is easy to forget the many other pieces that the composer granted us in his astonishing oeuvre. Which is precisely what makes this continuing Naxos series so very welcome, plugging so many gaps in accomplished performances. Volume 6 in Naxos’s series showcases five highly diverse works in rich orchestrations by Debussy’s colleagues or later admirers. © 2012 Classical CD Choice

James Miller
Fanfare, January 2012

The orchestra of Lyon plays very well…I will say that I enjoyed this particular CD… © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Victor Carr Jr, October 2011

Jun Märkl and the Orchestre National de Lyon offer a sparking performance, playing the music with real verve, as if they had discovered a heretofore unknown Debussy masterpiece.

The spacious recording is a bit over-reverberant, but nevertheless provides solid presence and impact. Debussy fans will find this release a real delight.

WQXR (New York), September 2011

In the sixth volume of their highly regarded survey of Debussy orchestral works, Jun Märkl and the Orchestre National de Lyon present five diverse works originally written for solo and duo-piano in striking orchestrations.

…Märkl and the Lyon Orchestra endeavor to make every piece sound like a treasured masterwork.

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, September 2011

Good notes. Great sound.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

WETA, August 2011

Jun Märkl, music director of the Lyon National Orchestra, has recorded five programs of orchestral music by Debussy on the Naxos label, and in May, released Volume 6. In this program, we hear Debussy’s music orchestrated by others, including his compatriots André Caplet (the famous Suite bergamasque, including the even more famous Clair de lune) and Henri Büsser (Petite Suite and Printemps).

A rarity is the Symphony in B minor, Debussy’s only attempt at this form standardized by Haydn and Mozart and brought to full blossom by Beethoven and others. He wrote this symphony as a teenager, but only completed a single movement, arranged for piano duet. Apparently he lost interest, and later disavowed the whole symphonic form. The orchestration here is by the American composer Tony Finno.

Geoffrey Norris
Gramophone, July 2011

DEBUSSY, C.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 5 (Märkl) - La boite a joujoux / Estampes Nos. 1 and 2 / L’isle joyeuse / 6 Epigraphes antiques 8.572568
DEBUSSY, C.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 6 (Märkl) - Suite bergamasque / Petite suite / En blanc et noir 8.572583

Debussy’s music recast for orchestra by his many friends and admirers

Debussy was fortunate in having friends around him who were so thoroughly steeped in his style as to be able to replicate it. Strictly speaking, these two instalments in the Orchestre National de Lyon’s excellent series are not of “Debussy Orchestral Works” but of works orchestrated by others. One exception is La boîte à joujoux, the enchanting children’s ballet that Debussy composed in 1913 but which was not staged until 1921, after his death. He himself wrote the short score and made a start on the orchestration but it was completed by his friend André Caplet. Caplet’s knowledge of Debussy’s world of sound was so profound that it’s impossible to detect any joins, as it were, and it is a pure joy that such magical, affectionate and playful music was given life by such a sympathetic hand. It is performed with the sensitivity, warmth of character, fluency and discerning treatment of instrumental timbre that have been the hallmarks of the Lyon orchestra’s playing and Jun Märkl’s conducting on all four of their previous Debussy discs.

Caplet’s assimilation of Debussy’s colour palette is equally evident in his orchestration of “Pagodes” from the set of piano pieces Estampes, Debussy’s contemporary Paul-Henri Büsser contributing an arrangement of “Soirée dans Grenade” from the same set that nicely conveys its Spanish sultriness. The Italian conductor Bernardino Molinari, with Debussy’s approval, recast L’isle joyeuse in scintillating orchestral guise, and Ernest Ansermet brought a particularly haunting atmosphere to the Six Epigraphes antiques.

Some of the orchestral versions in Vol 6 are probably just as well known as their keyboard originals, particularly Büsser’s of the Petite Suite, done with the utmost finesse. He also resurrected, under Debussy’s watchful eye, the orchestral score of Printemps, consumed by a fire at the binder’s. Robin Holloway’s 2002 version of En blanc et noir breathes Debussian air, as does Tony Finno’s realisation of the early Symphony, although the work itself suggests that symphonic writing was not perhaps Debussy’s natural métier.

Julian Haylock
Classic FM, July 2011

The Music Some of Debussy’s most enchanting music heard via skilful orchestrations, including those by Henri Büsser sanctioned by Debussy (Petite Suite, Printemps) and Robin Holloway’s inspired 2004 rescoring of En blanc et noir.

The Performance If trying to rethink Debussy’s sublimely idiomatic piano writing in orchestral terms isn’t challenging enough, to make it sound like an orchestral original borders on the impossible. Yet miraculously, this is just what Jun Märkl achieves in this enchanting collection, as witness magical performances of the Suite bergamasque and Petite Suite that appear to float free of musical gravity. He makes En blanc et noir sound even more alluring than in its own two-piano original, while an early symphonic movement that originally never got beyond piano duet scoring emerges like liquid gold.

The Verdict Jun Märkl’s outstanding Debussy series makes every piece sound like one of the most cherishable masterworks in the repertoire.

Want more? All five previous volumes [Naxos 8.570759, 8.570993, 8.572296, 8.572297, 8.572568] in this Naxos Debussy series are must-haves.

Why you’ll love this

  • SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. No one has ever captured the sense of a small boat creating gentle ripples on a lake in the early morning mist (‘En bateau’ from the Petite Suite) as magically as Märkl and his gifted Lyon players.
  • REVITALISED SYMPHONY. American composer-arranger Tony Finno’s inspired orchestration of Debussy’s early Symphony comes thrillingly to life in exemplary sound from gifted engineer-producer Tim Handley.
  • IN COLOUR! If you have ever wondered what Debussy’s En blanc et noir (a reference to the piano keyboard) might sound like fleshed out in full colour, conducting wizard Jun Märkl provides the perfect answer.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, July 2011

Is this sixth volume the last in Jun Märkl’s critically acclaimed survey of the orchestral works of Claude Debussy? If so, we couldn’t have wished for a better send-off to the series than this choice collection of unsuspected gems. All were originally written for other genres, particularly solo and duo-piano, and were orchestrated by the composer’s close associates Henri Büsset, Gustave Cloez, and André Caplet and latter-day admirers Robin Holloway and Tony Finno. In every instance, the orchestrations take their cues from the keyboard originals, carrying out the latent suggestions in Debussy’s unusually luminous harmonies, magic figurations, and frequent use of parallel chords to enrich the sound.

In some instances, the orchestrated version has become better known than the original. The most popular is Caplet’s radiant setting of “Claire de Lune” from Suite Bergamasque, the other three movements of which—Prelude, Minuet, and Passepied—are included here also. Petite Suite (orch. Büsset) clearly invites Märkl and the Orchestre National de Lyon to perform at their scintillating best as they explore the delicate colors and buoyant rhythmic intricacies of its four movements: En bateau (In a Boat), Cortége, Menuet, and Ballet. Printemps (Spring) was an early work, rejected by the Académie des Beaux-Arts as “too impressionistic,” though it is precisely Debussy’s spirit of harmonic adventure that we love today. The work itself was inspired by La Primavera, Botticelli’s painting of the goddess of spring in diaphanous gown. In the present performance, I do miss the wordless women’s chorus that graced Debussy’s original version. En blanc et noir, originally a suite for 4 hands, embodies in its middle movement (Lent, Sombre) a tribute to the fallen defenders of France. The early Symphony in B Minor (1880), amazingly unavailable on record except in Märkl’s version, is a neglected jewel that indicates the direction Debussy was heading.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, June 2011

The piece I enjoyed most by far on this disc is Robin Holloway’s 2002 orchestration of the 1915 En blanc e noir. The austerity of the two piano original marks both Debussy’s progression as a composer and his worsening physical and emotional state. Much as I admired Colin Matthews’ re-imagining of the complete Piano Preludes from the standpoint of the 21st Century I like the way Holloway has deliberately moved away from simply trying to evoke a Debussyian orchestral sound-world. As with the Matthews this seeks to emphasise the modernist elements in Debussy’s music and the result is something that is more than a respectful reworking which to be honest is what the Büsser and Caplet et al works are. Clearly this appeals to Märkl much more too and the increase in engagement and dynamism is palpable. Here is the rubato so missing from the previous sleepwalking humdrum routine. Also, the upfront detail of the recording serves the style of Holloway’s approach better than the hazy world of Büsser. Holloway flecks out the orchestration with glittering harp and glockenspiel and fascinating instrumental combinations. He is less concerned with creating a homogeneous whole preferring a robust and muscular orchestration where the instrumental groups compete for the musical material. The result is radically different from how I ever imagined this piece to be. This is exactly the kind of orchestration that I enjoy most—by translating a familiar work into unfamiliar territory new and revealing light is thrown on it. This is particularly true of the second movement Lent. Sombre [track 12] which becomes an intensely moving threnody to a friend killed on the battlefields of France in 1915. Over a glowering landscape interrupted my Messiaen-like ritualistic bells a lone bugle signals some kind of last post—you cannot help but wonder if Holloway was inspired by Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony here in spirit if not content. By a considerable distance this is the finest part of the disc with the Lyon players responding with playing of rapt beauty. Again Märkl handles the transition to the central section of marching bombast with much more conviction and success than earlier before the music subsides once more into the morning mists of the opening before the final rhetorical climax. Holloway manages to create much more of a miniature tone-poem here than the original implies—it will be down to individual listeners if they respond to the musical/emotional signposts he evokes. Personally I think they are superb and utterly convincing. Likewise the slippery and sly final Scherzando. Here Holloway adds some Bartók pizzicati amongst other orchestral effects which in an instant takes us way beyond any ‘authentic’ Debussy sound. Perhaps he was picking up on the faint mockery in Debussy’s dedication of the movement to Stravinsky. Certainly the sounds he creates here echo the Russian composer at points. But then he returns to the spirit of Debussy and the work evaporates into the air with an indifferent shrug of its musical shoulders. I do hope this work gets to be heard more often in concert and on disc…and the performance I would be tempted to recommend the disc on the strength of this alone.

The closing work is worth consideration too. I had never heard a note of this incomplete Symphony before. Debussy wrote this single first movement for an abortive four movement work in 1880 but never orchestrated it beyond the piano duet original. The American composer Tony Finno—whose website makes no mention of the piece or the date of his version—has done an orchestration mainly in the style of early Debussy. In this instance I am sure that was the right decision although I do find his apparent use of chromatic timp lines [track 14 0:50] simply odd. This is no undiscovered masterpiece; the fascination lies wholly in what developed afterwards. But for the admirer of Debussy’s music the interest is undeniable. Knowing what followed it is not hard to hear that the swooning romanticism of this piece would be a dead end. That being said the central Un poco lento, cantabile is an appealing salonesque confection which Finno has orchestrated with deft taste. There are echoes of Gounod here in Faust mode that I don’t think I had ever associated with Debussy before so that is interesting in itself. I have no comparable version of this piece and since it is not touched by greatness it is probably unfair to expect the performance to be more than the piece will allow.

No doubt collectors five discs into this series won’t need to read this review to make up their minds but little of the performance side of things here encourages me to race out to hear more from this team. For others, with the Naxos price advantage, I would say this is a disc worthy of consideration in the main for the brilliance of the Robin Holloway orchestration and the curiosity value of the early Symphony., June 2011

The sixth excellent Debussy volume from Jun Märkl and Orchestre National de Lyon contains one genuine and fascinating rarity in additional to several works that are well known, although not necessarily in orchestral guise. The rare piece is Debussy’s sole attempt at a symphony, which dates to 1880, when the composer was 18—and which has a tie-in to Tchaikovsky, since it was written for the older composer’s patroness, Nadezhda von Meck. Only a single movement was composed, and only for piano duet; Debussy later disclaimed any interest in symphonies. Hearing this rather derivative (although not particularly Tchaikovskian) piece, in an orchestration by Tony Fimmo, is one of those fascinating musical excursions into the land of what might have been. Also on this CD are the Suite bergamasque, originally for piano, in orchestrations by Gustave Cloez (three movements) and André Caplet (one: the ubiquitous Clair de lune); and the Petite Suite, written for two pianos, as orchestrated by Henri Büsser. Listeners who know the piano works will find it interesting to compare them with the orchestrated ones—both suites sound very good indeed in their orchestral guise. Less known in their original form are Printemps, originally for wordless female chorus and orchestra, heard here in a Büsser arrangement without chorus, and En blanc et noir, a two-piano work written during wartime (1915) and here heard as orchestrated by Robin Holloway. All the orchestral arrangements on this CD are quite worthy, and respectful of Debussy’s sonic world. Lovers of this composer’s music will find much to enjoy in this latest well-played and sensitively interpreted disc from the Naxos Debussy series.

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, June 2011

THE winning corporate personality of the Lyon orchestra allied with sensitive direction from their conductor are what make this and their previous Naxos Debussy orchestral releases so enjoyable. The strings are light and lithe, the winds and brass most engaging and everyone is on the same page when the music asks for needed pliancy.

That works well in this program of mostly piano pieces orchestrated not by the composer but by friends and sympathetic others. Suite bergamasque is here with its famous Clair de lune arranged by André Caplet. Petite Suite and Printemps are beautifully set by Henri Büsser and are played with much sympathy here. Best of all is English composer Robin Holloway’s orchestration of En blanc et noir, first heard in 2004 and a rare example of Debussy with a wartime statement.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, June 2011

For me Printemps is the highlight of the new Naxos recording—a most unjustly neglected and magical work which I first got to know from Charles Munch on an RCA recording…I chose Tortelier as my benchmark among modern recordings and was surprised to find myself preferring Märkl’s slightly faster tempo for the opening très modéré section: he keeps the music moving without ever pushing it too fast—indeed, it’s dreamy at first as the tentative signs of Spring appear. In the second section Märkl and Tortelier choose almost exactly the same overall tempo—both capture the exuberance without being over-exuberant. Though not quite recapturing the remembered magic of that Munch performance, this new recording makes a very acceptable substitute.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group