Debussy: La Mer; Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune; Jeux; Children's Corner (CD review)

Jun Markl, Orchestre National de Lyon.  Naxos 8.570759.

Maybe it's the conducting of maestro Jun Markl, or maybe it's the recording by producer and engineer Tim Handley, I don't know.  But the performances of the two lead pieces, La Mer and Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, seem rather flat.

La Mer and the Prelude are among the most evocative tone poems ever written.  You can almost feel the sea breeze on your face listening to La Mer, and you can sense the warm afternoon sun and the faun's yearnings in the Prelude.  At least, you should be able to.  But here, everything seems fairly perfunctory, a run-through without a lot of creativity or emotion.  Part of this, as I say, may be the recording, which sounds soft and restrictive.  Except in the very last work, the sound never seems to become very dynamic or open up.  Instead, it simply appears distant and dull.

Fortunately, things perk up with the little dance number Jeux, as well as with the Children's Corner suite, the latter originally written for piano and orchestrated by Andre Caplet.  This second half is far more animated than the first two works on the program and for many listeners may save the day.

Be aware, however, that DG have now remastered Herbert von Karajan's 1964 recording of Le Mar and the Prelude and offer them along with Ravel's Bolero and the Daphnes et Chloe Suite No. 2 for just a few dollars more than this Naxos issue, the Karajan superior in every way.  What's more, you can buy multi-disc sets from Martinon (EMI) and Haitink (Philips) containing most of Debussy's most-popular music for a mid price that's hard to beat.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa