Essential Debussy: 26 of His Greatest Masterpieces (CD review)

Various artists. DG 289 472 505-2 (2-disc set).

By the turn of the twenty-first century, times were starting to get hard all over the music industry, and that included classical music, which saw an impact. Giants like Sony, Philips, and EMI were slowing down, the latter two companies soon to dissolve or be taken over by other companies; Decca and DG had fewer new releases each month; and Michael Tilson Thomas became so annoyed with RCA for not continuing his orchestra's contract, he and his San Francisco Symphony formed their own recording company. He and his orchestra were not alone. It seemed as though only Telarc and Naxos kept plugging along.

In any case, the bigger companies began also finding that there was more money in their back catalog than in re-recording the same repertoire with expensive orchestras, so for a time they started assembling more reissues than creating brand-new releases. Thank goodness for small favors because at least we began getting some of the best older material than ever in greater quantity and for lower prices. This 2002 release, Essential Debussy, from DG is a case in point. It contains twenty-six of the composer's most popular works from some of DG's biggest stars.

Herbert von Karajan
The highlight of the two-disc set is probably Herbert von Karajan's mid-Sixties' Berlin Philharmonic rendition of La Mer. It sounds splendidly resonant with atmosphere and color, all awash in Karajan's lushly extravagant orchestral style. Then, too, you'll find bits of Iberia with Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra, The Children's Corner suite with Charles Dutoit and his Montreal forces, sections of the Nocturnes from Claudio Abbado and the Boston Symphony, and so on, plus about a dozen piano pieces from people like Roge, Vasary, Michelangeli, Weissenberg, Arrau, Bolet, Kocsis, Richter, and others. There really isn't anything by Debussy you can think of off the top of your head that isn't here, at least in part.

The sound spans the years from 1958 to close to 2002, with the median age being around twenty-five to thirty years old. Some of it sounds a bit better than others, of course, but most of the material has a kind of bright quality that doesn't quite add up to luster or brilliance. It's more like a forward upper midrange with little deep bass or high treble, resulting in a sound that's easy to listen to but not particularly state-of-the-art. Still, you get value for your money here, and for the casual listener, especially, it makes a fine introduction to Debussy.

JJP

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.

Contact Information

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

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa