Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien - Symphonic Fragments:-The Court of Lilies; Ecstatic Dance and Finale from the first Act; The Passion The Good Shepherd
Live Performance: 20th September 1982
Modest Petrowitsch MUSSORGSKY
Pictures at an Exhibition - orchestrated by Maurice RAVEL
Live performance 21-23 February 1999
NDR-Sinfonieorchester conducted by Günther Wand
RCA Red Seal/BMG 74321 72788 2 [54:31]

Günther Wand is, of course, justly famous as a great Brahms and Bruckner interpreter, so it comes as something of a surprise to hear him reading these French and Russian scores.

Wolfgang Seifert in his very full and very interesting notes (a model of their kind and excellently translated by Graham Lack) tells us that Wand "first conducted Debussy's Martyre de Saint Sébastien in 1967 in Cologne…From then on this beautiful music would not leave him alone. Again and again he gave tender and loving performances of the work, preparing it with a sure sense of its more subtle nuances, but never neglecting its powerful sound world." The work is scored for a large orchestra yet, here, Debussy uses his orchestral palette sparingly yet tellingly. Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, was conceived as a kind of mystery play cast as a musical revue for the famous dancer, Ida Rubinstein. Debussy's unusually rich score had parts for soloists and choruses. "By intentionally commingling elements of a Christ-like figure with those surrounding the Adonis cult, and by employing a half-naked female dancer to represent Saint Sébastien, the composer caused a major scandal, leading to the work being banned by the church.

Wand captures, perfectly, the strange beauty of this often ethereal music that reminds one of Parsifal and the sound world of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande.

Wand was also greatly intrigued and impressed with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and with Ravel's wonderfully colourful orchestrations. This reading shows Wand's immense care to breathe life into these pictures, and not forgetting the promenades between the paintings so that, in Wand's hands, they give us an impression of the visitor's reactions to them as he passes from one to another. Wand is concerned with atmosphere and detail, and portraiture and drama. Listen to the little nuances in 'The Tuileries Garden', for instance; these are real children's games -- a charming portrait. The crippled gnome of the opening picture seems sinister indeed while the great Gate of Kiev sounds suitably huge and impregnable.

A most impressive album


Ian Lace

See also review by Colin Anderson


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

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