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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Orchestral Works 1
La Mer (1904) [24:26]
Trois Nocturnes (1900) [22:32]
Prélude à l'Après-Midi d'un Faune (1894) [10:29]
Marche écossaise (1891) [6:23]
Berceuse héroïque (1914) [4:47]
Musiques pour le Roi Lear (1904) [4:58]
Jeux - poème dansé (1912) [18:15]
Images (1905) [32:23]
Printemps (1882) [16:00] (orch Henri BÜSSER)
Orchestre National de l'ORTF/Jean Martinon
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, 1973-74
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 3 65235 2 [74:15 + 70:07]

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Orchestral Works 2
Children's Corner (1908) [18:18] (orch André CAPLET)
Petite Suite (1888) [13:34] (orch Henri BÜSSER)
Danse sacrée et danse profane (1903) [9:15]
La Boîte à joujoux (1913) [31:40] (orch André CAPLET)
Fantaisie pour piano et orchestra (1890) [23:53] (ed. André JOUVE)
La plus que lente (1910) [6:00]
Première Rapsodie pour orchestre avec clarinette principale (1903) [8:11]
Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone solo (1905) [10:02]
Khamma - légende dansée (1912) [20:24] (orch. Charles KOECHLIN)
Danse: Tarantelle styrienne (1905) [5:44] (orch. Maurice RAVEL)
Marie-Claire Jamet (harp) (Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane)
Guy Dangain (clarinet)
Jean-Marie Loneix (saxophone)
Alain Marion (flute) (Faune)
Michel Sedrez, Fabienne Boury (piano duet) (Printemps)
Jules Goetgheluck (oboe) (Children's Corner)
John Leach (cimbalom) (La plus)
Fabienne Boury (piano) (Khamma)
Choeurs de l'ORTF
Orchestre National de l'ORTF/Jean Martinon
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, 1973-74
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 3 65240 2 [72:54 + 74:54]

Comparative reviews

I'm never quite sure what goes through record companies' minds when they lease or license material but EMI has clearly seen good sense in reissuing these recordings very soon after licensing them to Brilliant Classics, who issued them in a four CD boxed set (Brilliant Classics 92765). EMI had itself issued a big eight CD set of Debussy and Ravel - four discs to each composer - on CZS 5755262. The recycling and leasing of material at least goes to show one indisputable fact. Whereas not every recording here is going to be the most imaginatively played or the most evocatively nuanced, they have all stood the test of time and the accountants' scythe. Recorded over thirty years ago they have proved durable and important recordings, fully worthy of a rejigging in EMI's Gemini series.

The new format is two twofers. The first starts as it means to go on, with a no-nonsense La Mer. Martinon had at his command a notoriously recalcitrant orchestral beast in the shape of the Orchestre National de l'ORTF but it's a measure of his convincing control that they play so consistently well for him. He encourages from them a clarity, a distinct "separation of the powers" when it comes to sectional discipline - no lazy bleaching of sonorities - and very little overtly gaudy expression. In pianistic terms his approach reminds me of George Copeland, not Walter Gieseking; if the orchestra was a piano its feet would be off the pedal. It means of course that there's ultimately a want of sheer sheen and colour but to compensate there's no rhythmic flaccidity. Everything keeps moving nicely. But Martinon certainly encourages some vivid wind playing in the Jeux de vagues; this is a bracing, forward-moving La Mer.

The Trois Nocturnes feature something of a reprise - attractively and athletically lean sonorities conjoined with a decisive sense of tempo relationships. It's undoubtedly the case that many will miss say, Ormandy's sense of glamour and vitality - his evocative surface painting - in Fêtes. And if one is objective Prélude à l'Après-Midi d'un Faune will stand more as a corrective to overtly romanticised languor rather than as a necessarily recommendable recording in its own right. There's little of Beecham's famously erotic glamour.

But one of Martinon's greatest strengths in this repertoire was the immediate establishment of a firm rhythm. This is coupled with real atmosphere in Jeux. One senses however that in Images Martinon is not given quite the free rein he seeks, that he is hindered by an orchestra that can't quite give him the free spiritedness he is asking for - especially in Iberia. Still there is vitality - and a nice big fat trumpet - in Par les rues et par les chemins. If criticisms need to be established about this cycle they will centre on a lack of explicit string tone and weight in these readings. For all the intimacy of Les parfums de la nuit the strings lack the last ounce of evocative lusciousness that they ideally need here. I should add as a rider that Martinon would doubtless argue that this is not quite what he wanted.

The second twofer features a raft of soloists and orchestrations. Lest I give the impression that Martinon's deft clear sightedness is impervious to charm one could do worse than listen to Children's Corner. Wind playing, sectional balance and rhythmic pointing are all a delight. En bateau from the Petite Suite is of a piece - a reading that eschews extraneous gesture in favour of the essence. And if there's not much sign of Stokowski's voluptuous approach in Danse sacrée et danse profane Martinon's solutions are, if less voluble and exciting, always clean-limbed, analytical and superbly thought through.

Ciccolini impresses in the Fantasie where his articulation is deft and the orchestral support suitably robust when required. John Leach bring some cimbalom spice to Le plus que lente but Guy Dangain impresses even more in the Première Rapsodie with his very personalised tonal qualities and athletic fingering. Jean-Marie Loneix's very French, rather woolly, saxophone tone is on display in the Rapsodie and there's an exciting generation of rhythmic intensity here. There are other bits and pieces that you will need for a complete and representative Debussy orchestral collection and they're very well played if not always tremendously interesting.

If you seek swathes of colour and outsize personality in your Debussy you may find that Martinon under-characterises. If however you are satisfied with performances that are lucid, imaginative, thoughtful and unselfconscious then you will be very happy with Martinon. He has a special understanding of this - and allied - repertoire and his clarity and care in balance and dynamics are merely two of his great virtues in Debussy conducting. That's why these performances exist in multiple competing editions - and long may they continue to do so.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Paul Shoemaker December BARGAIN OF THE MONTH


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