Debussy: Images (CD review)

Also, Pour le piano: Sarabande, Danse, Marche ecossaise sur un theme populaire, La plus que lente.  Jun Markl, Orchestre National de Lyon. Naxos 8.572296.

I must admit I didn't care all that much for maestro Jun Markl's previous album of Debussy orchestral works, which included La Mer and Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune (Naxos 8.570759). Perhaps it was because he had so much competition in that repertoire, it was hard for me to find a foothold for him. I don't know. However, I enjoyed this third Debussy volume slightly more than I liked that first one (I missed the second disc of Nocturnes), and certainly at its budget price the potential buyer must consider it at least a contender in this repertoire.

Listening to Volume 3 in Markl's Debussy series also makes me wonder how much a person's mood affects his or her appreciation for music when listening to it. I mean, if you're in a happy, grumpy, or sad state of mind, it can't help but influence your disposition toward any piece of music. That said, I'd hate to think I did Markl any disservice when I listened to his first Debussy disc; I don't think I did, because I still never felt this third set fully lit up the room for me, and I was feeling pretty good when I listened to it.

In any case, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a master impressionist, creating musical tone poems that never fail to evoke colorful musical paintings in the mind. The central selection here is the composer's Images for Orchestra (1909-12), most of which he initially intended as another solo piano piece, as the Images I and II had been. We hear in the five movements of the Images for Orchestra suggestions of English, Spanish, and French influences. The opening Gigues are English in character, the three-part Iberia Spanish, and the final Rondes de printemps a picture of France. The suite demonstrates a definitely international flair, and Markl does his best to bring out these nationalistic tendencies. He is at his best, though, in the delicate Les parfums de la nuit, where one can almost smell the scents of the night air.

Markl and his Orchestre National de Lyon play the other short pieces on the album--originally piano works, later orchestrated--in an equally nuanced fashion. Nevertheless, these are solid, serviceable interpretations rather than particularly distinguished or inspired ones such as those of, say, Jean Martinon (EMI), Geoffrey Simon (Cala), Bernard Haitink (Philips), or, best of all in the Images, Ataulfo Argenta (Decca). Where Markl scores is in the poetic segments, as the more lyrical interludes in the music demonstrate, especially the program's closing number, La plus que lente, an odd, parodic little waltz.

The Naxos sound, recorded in 2008, is somewhat soft and lightweight, yet it is clear enough, replicating a fairly realistic performance heard from a moderate listening position. You won't find the kind of concert-hall bloom here so pleasing in Haitink's Concertgebouw Debussy recordings (available in a Philips Duo at mid price), nor a lot of depth to the orchestral stage, nor much ultimate definition or transparency. However, the recording's clarity and wide stereo spread help make up for any minor deficiencies.


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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