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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Nocturnes (1899) [25.35]
La Mer (1905) [24.16]
Ibéria (1906) [19.57]
Czech Philharmonic Chorus/Josef Veselka
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jean Fournet
rec. Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 23-27 Oct 1963 (Nocturnes; Mer); 7-10 Feb 1965. ADD
SUPRAPHON ARCHIVE SU 3421-2 011 [70.05]

Jean Fournet (b.1913), a Rouennais, studied flute with Gaubert and began his conducting career with French Radio and then with the Paris Opera. Latterly he conducted for Netherlands Radio and made many discs (sadly out of common circulation) for the Japanese company, Denon.

The present recordings were part of a series he made with the Czech Phil during the 1960s. Others included Franck’s Psyché, Les Eolides, Les Djinns, Rédemption and Le Chasseur Maudit. Beyond the Czech connection (which he shared with Baudo and Pedrotti) he recorded extensively including rarer items such as Inghelbrecht’s Requiem with the ORTF orchestra. Some of you may know him from the Decca Phase Four LPs he made of Debussy’s Ibéria, Nocturnes and Faune while heading the Netherlands Radio Orchestra. Further back in time he worked with Philips recording Louise, Pelléas et Mélisande and Pêcheurs de Perles.

Fournet’s Debussy is alluring and is recorded with downright honesty and immediacy. Working with a top-flight orchestra resistant to homogenising influences from the West his attention to detailing, balanced with warmth, mystery and a feeling for movement is outstanding. Listen to the squeal-howl of the woodwind at 1:34 in the third section of Ibéria. His approach reminded me of Monteux in one of his most successful recordings: Tchaikovsky’s Fifth with the LSO in Vienna (Vanguard). A whip-crack taut La Mer is matched with glowingly silken tone from the strings of the premier Czech orchestra. In Nuages he liberates us from the slough of miasmic meandering that beckons with Debussy’s scores. He would probably have made a fine Bax conductor if only he had taken an interest in that direction; Bax’s scores tempt the rhapsodically-inclined into a similarly doomed mire. Fêtes is both snappily volatile and prone to languid abandon. The close recording applied by Eduard Herzog and Miloslav Kulhan works wonderfully well: listen to the sharply accented harp at 0.49 in Fêtes. Fournet superbly balances those ‘lointain’ fanfares in all their delicacy and a determination. Similar poise between woodwind and female chorus can be heard at the start of Sirènes. Things become bogged down a little in Les parfums de la nuit where Fournet loses that usually sure grip the motion of a luxurious canvas.
No serious Debussian should be without this. These unaffected Fournet recordings offer enchantment-in-waiting. If the Ibéria shows a slackening of grip, the other two works are essential listening for dedicated Debussians and first-timers unobsessed by the latest sound could do a great deal worse than meet Debussy for the first time through the Fournet of the Czech years.

Rob Barnett

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