Debussy: Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune (CD review)

Also, Three Nocturnes; Pelleas et Melisande, concert suite. Emmanuel Pahud, flute; Rundfunkchor Berlin; Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 289 471 3322.

It's always a joy, of course, to listen to the Berlin Philharmonic, but I wonder why the powers that be at DG so often keep these things under wraps for so long? They made this recording in 1998 and didn't release it in America until 2002. Oh, well. It's rapturous music played in rapturous style by the late Claudio Abbado and his distinguished orchestra, and I suppose we should count it a blessing we got it at all.

In fact, the orchestra sounds almost as luxurious as it did under Herbert von Karajan, no small compliment to maestro Abbado. Naturally, the three works included on the disc have something to do with it. They fairly define impressionistic music. The Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune with Emmanuel Pahud, flute, is probably the best known of the bunch, and while practically every conductor in the world has made a recording of it over the years, most of which are still available, Abbado's interpretation is among the most seductive, lithe, and sinuous of all. I loved it.

I found the three Nocturnes impressive, too--gentle and graceful--but other conductors have done them up just as well. Nevertheless, Abbado gets excellent support from members of the Berlin Radio Choir in the Sirens segment.

Nevertheless, it's the Pelleas et Melisande suite, arranged years ago by conductor Erich Leinsdorf, that carries the day. It is gorgeous in its Delius-like meandering manner, with waves of sound rolling over the listener in sweet profusion like spring breezes on a warm day. The concert suite leaves out much of the overt action of the complete work, contenting itself mainly with the linking material, which is just fine by me for its relaxed tone and romantic atmosphere, especially as Abbado presents it. And then there's the sheer beauty of the Berlin orchestra; it's hard to resist.

The sound quality varies, though. DG recorded the first two items in Jesus-Christus Kirche without an audience, while they recorded the Pelleas music live and closer up at the Berlin Philharmonie. Now, normally I don't fancy live recordings, but in this case it actually outshines its companions in brilliance, transparency, and dynamics. It simply sounds more alive, although in all fairness the more distanced and veiled sound of the first pieces rather fits their mood. In any case, as I say, it's Abbado's conducting and the magnificence of the Berlin ensemble that are probably most at issue here, and they're so good I wouldn't let a little matter like ordinary sonics interfere with a good time.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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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