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CD: Crotchet

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer (1904) [24:17]
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1892) [9:02]
Danse – Tarantelle Styrienne (orch. Ravel) (1890) [5:26]
Trois Nocturnes (1900) [26:03]
William Kincaid (flute)
Temple University Women’s Choir/Robert E Page
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. Broadwood Hall, Philadelphia, 25 January 1959, 14 March 1959 (La Mer, Prelude, Danse); Town Hall, Philadelphia, 14 March 1964. ADD
Experience Classicsonline

Ormandy’s vintage Debussy has its strengths. These have been evident since they were first issued on LP. CBS’s 1960s SBRG series mixed Debussy with works by Ravel. This disc sensibly harvests together the Debussy items from several of those LPs. The half-century old analogue tapes are in good heart and yield only a modest sibilant hiss.
Ormandy’s La Mer impresses deeply especially in Jeux de Vagues with the poetic virtuosity of both the harp and flutes much to the fore. These instruments receive highlighting attention from the control bench where the trumpets seem recessed. Ormandy keeps the tension on a straining tight leash at the start of the Dialogue du vent et de la mer. The controlled pecking of the trumpet fanfares at 6:03 is irresistible. The Prélude is warm and urgent and is distinguished by William Kincaid’s flute. The Danse is a pleasant enough effusion and better to have than not. The Three Nocturnes display the same subtle fragrant strengths as Ormandy’s La Mer. His Fêtes again displays all the sterling strengths including superbly precise yet not rigid dynamic contrasts and a harp ‘slash’ that I have never heard more tellingly done. Suffice to say that this is the first time I have found the Nocturnes so enjoyable. The Temple University Women’s Choir in Sirènes unfortunately sound too earth-bound and retain little mystery until a couple of minutes into the movement. The problem returns towards the end of the movement.
The notes are by Wolfgang Dömling.
By the way Ormandy returned to the first two works in the 1980s for RCA with the Philadelphia for one of their early quadraphonic LPs using the CD-4 discrete system. It was RCA Quadradisc ARD1-0029. No doubt this will be revived at some point. It was quite well received at the time.
Debussy collectors should take this opportunity while it presents itself. Others will also enjoy these sumptuous yet poetic recordings from a truly great orchestra at the warmest nigh noon.
As for the competition it is numerous. My personal recommendation among Debussy recordings includes Inghelbrecht on Testament, Baudo-Pedrotti-Fournet with the Czech Phil on Supraphon (Debussy and Ravel) and Martinon on EMI Classics. However, as I have said already, Ormandy’s Nocturnes is a force in the land.

Rob Barnett



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