> Debussy Platinum compilation [JQ]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Première Rapsodie* [8’47"]
Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane** [9’39"]
Deux Arabesques*** [8’04"]
Clair de Lune**** [5’05"]
Sonata for flute, viola and harp ***** [17’39"]
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10****** [25’09"]
* Emma Johnson (clarinet); English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier
(Recorded in St. Peter’s Church, Morden, January 1987)
**Prometheus Ensemble; Caryl Thomas (harp)
(Recorded in St Peter’s Church, Morden, 18 May 1989)
***Gordon Fergus-Thompson (piano)
(Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London, July 1989)
****Shura Cherkassky (piano)
(Recording date & venue unknown)
*****Richard Blake (flute); Yuko Inoue (viola); Caryl Thomas (harp)
(Recorded in St Peter’s Church, Morden, 18 May 1989)
******The Lindsays
(Recorded in Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, 5-7 July 1994)
ASV PLATINUM PLT 8505 [74’47"]

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This is another varied and enjoyable anthology from ASV’s Platinum series.

The performance of the Rapsodie features the outstanding British clarinettist, Emma Johnson, here captured relatively early in her career. Working with Yan Pascal Tortelier, a very fine exponent of French music, she gives a first class performance of one of Debussy’s less well-known works. At the start her tone is warm, woody and seductive but later on, when the pace picks up, she plays with great agility and with a very appropriate sappy tone quality.

The Danses are more usually heard played by an orchestra. Here they are played by a fairly small ensemble and it is most interesting to hear a slimmed-down version. I thought the extra intimacy was highly appropriate and very satisfying. The Prometheus Ensemble gives a poised and dedicated account which I found very enjoyable.

The Arabesques are taken from a complete survey of Debussy’s solo piano music which Gordon Fergus-Thompson made for the label in the 1980s. He plays with charm and fluency and gives the music plenty of light and shade. Shura Cherkassky is most commonly associated with display pieces calling for great virtuosity. His brief contribution to this anthology, Clair de Lune, reminds us that he was also capable of delicacy and refinement. His playing here is lovely.

The Sonata for flute, viola and harp is an elusive, subtle work and the unusual forces required has probably prevented it from becoming better known. Debussy himself described the work as "terribly sad". Composed in 1915 it was one of a projected series of six instrumental sonatas (only the present work and those for cello and violin were written.) The ensemble is full of possibilities and how well Debussy exploits the tonal palette available to him. The score abounds in unusual colours and textures and the players here respond wholeheartedly. The second of the three movements struck me as being as refreshing as a glass of Sancerre while the finale is much more bracing and here finds the players alert and assertive.

The recording of Debussy’s only String Quartet originally appeared in a coupling with the Lindsays’ distinguished account of the Ravel Quartet (reissued on a companion disc in this series.). Debussy’s Quartet is a relatively early work, pre-dating Pelléas and the Prélude à l’Après-midi. Debussy was still searching for his distinctive voice when he wrote it in 1893 but his mature style is very nearly there.

The Lindsays are passionate advocates of the work. They give quite a robust account of the first movement, reminding us that Debussy’s music was by no means all languor and pastel shades; there’s plenty of sinew and the Lindsays exploit that facet to the full. They articulate the puckish scherzo very well and strike just the right note of subdued ecstasy in the third movement. The dramatic finale is positively projected. This is a direct but far from unsubtle account of the quartet. There is plenty of committed playing here. A distinguished performance such as this commands attentive listening

This is a fine and enjoyable collection of performances, all featuring excellent, intelligent playing and all given first class recorded sound. The notes, though brief, are better than some I have seen in this series. A most recommendable anthology.

John Quinn

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