Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)
Orchestral Works Vol. 4
Le martyre de Saint Sébastien: Fragments symphoniques (1911) [29:12]
Khamma (orch. Koechlin) (1912) [21:59]
Le roi Lear (orch. Roger-Ducasse) (1904) [4:24]
Cortège et air de danse (L’Enfant prodigue) (1884) [4:59]
Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl
rec. January and February 2009 (Saint Sébastien and Khamma) and March 2009 (Lear and L’Enfant prodigue), Auditorium de Lyons, France. DDD
NAXOS 8.572297 [61:22]
Le martyre de Saint Sébastien is a very long play by Gabriele d'Annunzio. It was written for Ida Rubinstein during the time he spent in France, in order to avoid d'Annunzio’s creditors in Italy. Debussy wrote a large amount of music for the production but the play was not a success. Fortunately, Debussy’s music contains some of his best work and it has been recorded many times, both complete and in the suite of Symphonic Fragments. Earlier this year, Ansermet’s recording of almost an hour’s worth of the music was re-issued (Decca Eloquence 480 0130) and Pierre Monteux recorded the Fragments with the London Symphony Orchestra (only available as part of a very tempting 7 CD set, Decca 000797902). I cannot recommend these recordings too highly for both Ansermet and Monteux knew Debussy and have his music in their blood, which gives their performances a deeper understanding of the composer’s work which it is impossible for other conductors to achieve. Indeed, this is just about as near to having the composer himself conducting as you can get. But this isn’t to denigrate Märkl’s recording which is very fine indeed. He achieves the mystical quality essential to this work, restraint, chaste beauty, delicacy are all paramount in his interpretation and the orchestra responds with playing of great beauty and refinement. Ansermet offers the vocal sections as well, in his recording, but the Fragments given here make a fine and most satisfying suite and Märkl is to be praised for such an accomplished exposition of the music.
Khamma also appeared in the Ansermet re-issue and Märkl takes about two and a half minutes longer than his colleague but this music can take that for it is elusive and sensual. Perhaps not Debussy at his best - he wrote the piece for a commission of 10,000 francs and lost interest, leaving part of the orchestration to the immensely talented, and still much under-rated, Charles Koechlin. Märkl has a stronger grip on the music, and thus gives a more exciting performance than Ansermet, but both are valid interpretations.
The two fanfares are all that Debussy wrote of some incidental music for a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. They’re regal and colourful, and possess a suavity which is most unexpected. The Cortège et air de danse from the cantata L’Enfant prodigue, which won Debussy the coveted Prix de Rome, is a nicely flavoured excerpt in the eastern mode. It was beloved by Beecham as a lollipop.
This is a fine disk, and at the modest price it’s a real bargain, especially with such good recording and notes.
Bob Briggs  

This is a fine disk.