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Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
Pelléas et Mélisande (1892/1902) – Symphonie (arr. Marius Constant (1961)) [25:05]
Clair de lune (Suite Bergamasque) (1890/1895) (orch. André Caplet) [4:34]
Nocturnes (1893/1899) [25:26]
Berceuse héroïque (pour rendre hommage à S M le Roi Albert I de Belgique et à sa soldats) (1914) [4:55]
Trois Études (1915) (orch. Michael Jarrell (2002)) – 9 Pour les notes répétées, 10 Pour les Sonoritées opposes, 12 Pour les accords) [13:31]
MDR Radio Choir; Leipzig, Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl
rec. 15 – 20 July 2007 (Nocturnes 1 and 2); 15 – 19 January 2008 (Berceuse héroïque, Clair de lune, Études and Pelleas et Melisande); 11 – 12 February 2008 (Nocturnes 3), Auditorium de Lyons, France DDD
NAXOS 8.570993 [74:09] 


Experience Classicsonline

A friend of mine mentioned recently that there were precious few original orchestral works by Debussy. So many of them were either orchestrations of piano works or had had their orchestrations completed, or undertaken, by other hands. He’s right – there’s only the Nocturnes,
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, La Mer, Danse sacrée et danse profane and Images, and a couple of smaller pieces. On the other hand, there’s a list as long as your arm of orchestrations and arrangements by others, ranging from Caplet and Büsser to Colin Matthews, Niels Rosing Schouw, John Barbirolli, Hans Zender and Robin Holloway. It is to be hoped that this Debussy series – this is the second volume of the orchestral music – will embrace the various versions made by others. 

This disk makes a very good start on the arrangements with Marius Constant’s Symphony, based on music from Debussy’s only completed opera. Mainly using the instrumental portions of the score Constant has fashioned a large-scale piece, which is fascinating. It makes me sad that I cannot, and have never been able to, enjoy the stage work. There is real symphonic growth in this piece, and as the work progresses there’s tension and drama. It makes one wish that Debussy had written a Symphony of his own for the development in this work shows how his mind worked and how he could bring together the right material for such a project. It also proves just how symphonic Pelléas et Mélisande really is. This is a major addition to the small catalogue of orchestral works of Debussy and it receives a fine performance here, which will, I hope, win it some friends. Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why the name of Marius Constant is so familiar, it’s because he is the composer of the famous theme music to the TV series The Twilight Zone. 

The Nocturnes is one of Debussy’s first major orchestral achievements. The three movements are mysterious, fantastic and elusive. Nuages is a depiction of clouds, but it’s not cloudy music in any way, more a depiction of the sky as they pass over. Fêtes is a carnival day with a procession coming from afar – a dazzling, fantastic vision as the composer put it – and taking over the scene before being swallowed into it. The final movement, Sirènes is a picture of the sea with a wordless female chorus singing an alluring song but being gradually left behind, and not bringing us to grief on the rocks. There is stiff competition in this work, not least from Ansermet, Boulez, Haitink and Martinon and Monteux, but Märkl directs a very good performance, perhaps missing the last ounce of subtlety and not quite making the most of the procession in Fêtes but these are small matters. This is a very satisfying performance indeed. 

The other pieces require little comment. Berceuse héroïque is a rather un–Debussyian piece, a reaction to the war and dedicated to “His Majesty King Albert I of Belgium and his soldiers”. Caplet’s orchestration of Clair de lune is a delight and the three Études orchestrated by Michael Jarrell, a Swiss composer born in 1958. These work rather well for orchestra – which one might not have expected given that they are studies for the keyboard – but he misses the point of the climax in the final piece. 

Märkl’s first disk of Debussy’s orchestral music failed to really impress me, by the side of the competition, although I found his performance of Jeux to be very fine indeed. I have no reservations about this disk. It’s well worth having and the Pelléas et Mélisande Symphonie should be heard by all lovers of this endlessly fascinating composer.

Bob Briggs

see also Review by Kevin Sutton


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