Debussy: Orchestral Works, Volumes I and II (CD review)
I mean, who else would want to hear playing Debussy? Jean Martinon was always the best in the business in French repertoire, and with a French orchestra on EMI, these 1973-74 recordings are about as good as it gets.
What's more, the older we become, the more things become a bargain. The two volumes EMI have issued include two discs each, cover almost all of Debussy's orchestral output (several of them piano pieces orchestrated by others), together contain almost five hours of music, and come at a very low price. As I say, a bargain.
Things begin with the more familiar material, La Mer, Three Nocturnes, and Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune on disc one, along with Berceuse heroique and Musiques pour Le Roi Lear. While La Mer is undoubtedly good, it is the Nocturnes and Prelude that overshadow the others. Martinon's light, airy touch and splendidly sweet, atmospheric manner are perfect for these works. Then, disc two carries on the show with a lovely Jeux, a colorful Images, and an enjoyable Printemps.
On Volume II, the first disc contains suites, Children's Corner, Petite Suite, and Dances sacree et profane, along with La Boite a joujoux. Of these pieces, the Petite Suite could not be better, a gorgeous little light-as-air wisp of a work. The final CD contains lesser-known compositions, several of them highlighting individual instruments. The Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra is actually a small concerto, and although it was an early piece and Debussy didn't care for it, it comes off as a charming reminder of things to come. The standout, though, is the Premiere rapsodie for orchestra with principal clarinet, which I had never heard before and found absolutely delightful. Rounding the final disc are the Rapsodie for Orchestra with saxophone solo, Le plus que lente, Khamma, and Danse.
EMI's sound from French sources in the 1970s always struck me as a bit bright, forward, and thin. They seemed to lack the deep bass and warm midrange of their English cousins. So it is with these recordings, remastered by EMI France in 1998. However, although I don't think they are in the same top echelon as EMI's English recordings of the time, they do sound good, and they have an especially nice sense of depth in the orchestral field.
Meet the Staff
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.