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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer
Nocturnes
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Alborada del gracioso
Daphnis et Chloë – Suite No.2
Philharmonia Choir (women’s voices)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
Rec. 11-14, 19, 25-26 April 1962 (Debussy), and 4, 8-10 June 1959 (Ravel), Kingsway Hall, London
EMI CLASSICS GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 5 62746 2 [76:57]

 

The Debussy items have appeared before. With the addition of the Ravel, this now makes even better value, and represents this great conductor at the very height of his considerable powers.

La Mer is given one of its most satisfying performances on disc. Far from indulging himself, Giulini maintains an admirably disciplined approach, paying extraordinarily loving attention to the details with which this score teems. In addition, he has such a sure sense of pacing and timing, with the result that the climaxes of all three movements are achieved with overwhelming power. It is admittedly a work that tends to bring the very best out of its performers – it will brook nothing less – but, even with that consideration, this is an account to relish and cherish.

The Nocturnes are on the same level, maybe even better. I have certainly never heard a Nuages in which the textures have such cloud-like softness and insubstantiality, and the Philharmonia’s playing for Giulini indicates why it was up there as one of the world’s very top orchestras at the time.

On the other hand, the woodwind playing was very individual, and thus not to all tastes. There will be those therefore who will find Gareth Morris’s rendering of the famous flute solo in Daphnis disappointing. Morris was a famous and distinguished player who persisted in performing on a wooden flute when all around were turning to metal. The sound has a unique and memorable quality, but none of the brilliance and richness we have come to associate with modern flute playing. Equally, many will find Sidney Sutcliffe’s intensely reedy oboe playing a problem. Personally, I find it quite wonderful, and in French music of this kind it surely comes into its own.

Carlo Maria Giulini will be ninety years old this coming May 9th. This issue is thus a timely reminder of a conductor with an exceptional ear for tonal beauty, and an unerring ability to find it within any ensemble fortunate enough to work with him.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

 

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