Debussy: Prelude a l’Apres-midi (CD review)

Also, Nocturnes; La Mer; Berceuse heroique. Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80617.

Under most other circumstances I would have to say Telarc’s sound on this recording is too ultrasmooth, but considering that it is serving the master impressionist Claude Debussy, it probably complements the music properly. For those listeners who fancy their impressionism mild and dreamy, this may be the best way to go.

My only concern with Paavo Jarvi’s interpretations of the Prelude a l'Apres-midi, Nocturnes, La Mer, and Berceuse heroique is that they seem more than a mite complacent. Next to classic recordings by Previn (EMI), Reiner (RCA), Karajan (DG), and Stokowski (London), Jarvi appears to lack some of their passion. Surely, in so serene a piece as the Prelude, this approach works perfectly well; but in something like the closing moments of La Mer, where the sea swells up and dances a literal storm, one senses little of the dramatic tension, the excitement and fervor, of the moment. There is, instead, a continued stream of soft, languorous relaxation.

Let me put it another way:  These readings may be easy on the ear, and they may make for pleasant listening while driving along a busy interstate, but they aren’t the most compelling performances for first-choice listening in the home.

Telarc’s sound is, as I say, ultrasmooth and somewhat soft, but it’s very broad and deep across and through the stereo sound stage, with excellent dimensionality and a solid bass line. In short, this is a pleasing but hardly earth-shattering release.

JJP

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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa