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Hommage à Evguéni Svetlanov (1928-2002)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La mer (1905) [29’19].
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Poème de l’extase, Op. 54 (1908) [25’32].
Orchestre National de France/Evgeni Svetlanov.
Live performances in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 25 Jan 2001 (Debussy) and in the Auditorium de Nantes 28 Jan 2001 (Scriabin). DDD
NAÏVE V4946 [54’57]


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This is, quite simply, a remarkable disc. Two such heavily-perfumed scores, written within three years of each other, prove a well-nigh perfect coupling and provide an eloquent testimony to Svetlanov’s stature as a conductor. When reviewing a Royal Festival Hall concert in January 2002, I wrote of the ‘effortless ebb and flow’ (of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony) and, of Glinka’s ‘Ruslan’ overture, ‘most impressive, perhaps, was Svetlanov’s ability to balance the textures carefully, even within fortissimo’ (http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2002/Jan02/Glinka.htm). Both qualities are presented in abundance on the present disc.

Svetlanov died in May 2002, just a few months after the concert captured here. Given the scarcity of conductors of his gifts, he will be sorely missed. La mer on this occasion is an evocation of the sea with such delicacy, mystery and power that it is quite overwhelming. Couple this with Svetlanov’s ‘effortless ebb and flow’ (the phrase taking on dual significance in the present instance, of course) and this performance becomes a winner. It is simultaneously easy to believe this is ‘live’ given the spontaneous outpouring of the whole, but difficult to believe because of the high technical standard of the orchestra. The opening is teasingly gentle; the woodwind dances sinuously. Horns cut through the orchestra thrillingly, and the overall brightening of textures is slow but utterly inevitable due to the Svetlanov’s experienced handling of the score. The climax, when it comes, is resplendent.

It is the trumpets’ searing through the orchestra like musico-semiotic signposts in the ‘Jeux de vagues’ that impresses most in this second movement. Interestingly, the ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’ is tremendously exciting and impetuous (a rough sea, this!), caught on the wing, but textures remain ever a model of clarity.

Scriabin’s Poème de l’extase opens in the most delicate of fashions. Scoring, again, is miraculously, and meticulously, presented. Muted horn calls sound as if Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande has stepped into Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande, a memorable invocation. Everything is expertly delineated, Svetlanov realising the build ups of melodic/thematic strands towards climax points brilliantly. Textures become so lush one could get lost in them, but they never once seem overcrowded. Scriabin’s magical, phantasmagorical world is viscerally evoked. The end is very loud: the expected cheers are there in abundance. The occasional horn split along the way merely acts as part of the live experience.

Recommended with enthusiasm.

Colin Clarke



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