MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download from The Classical Shop

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images (1905-12) [35:55]
Jeux (1912-13) [17:32]
Nocturnes (1897-99)* [24:13]
La Mer (1903-05) [23:58]
Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune (1891-94) [10:14]
Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire (1890) [6:32]
Printemps (1887) [15:12]
Two movements from L’Enfant prodigue (1884; revised 1907-08) [7:04]
Berceuse héroïque (1914) [4:34]
Women of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus*
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève
rec. 10-12 October 2011 and 7-9 February 2012, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
CHANDOS CHSA 5102(2) [78:04 + 68:22]

Experience Classicsonline

This is one heck of a collection, and beautifully performed throughout. I’ve mentioned that feeling of a record feeling ‘right’ in the groove almost before the music starts, and this is very much one of these. The opening of Images is genuinely haunting, the unearthly sounds sending one scurrying for the score to find out what is going on. Fear not; ’tis only a trio clarinets, but those little grace notes never sounded quite so spooky. Don’t turn up the volume too loud, as the opening of the second movement Ibéria will blow your wig off.
This is the kind of state of the art recording which will mercilessly reveal inaccuracies, but everyone is at the top of their game, and you can hear the care and preparation which has gone into making these performances better than many or most, perhaps even all. Such attention to detail might of course lead to over-analytical sterility, but there are plenty of little touches which will automatically raise a smile. Have a listen to those brass glissandi at 5:04 in that second of the Images. These things aren’t always as apparent as they might be in recordings, and Denève does just enough to give them prominence without becoming vulgar. Le Matin d’un jour de fête is tremendously pictorial, with hefty string pizzicati and a powerful sense of folksy fun and perhaps even some danger - the spirit of Stravinsky just around the corner. The rhythmic power towards the end of Rondes de printemps is irresistible.
Jeux was Debussy’s last original orchestral work, and written for a Diaghilev ballet - first performed in fact just two weeks before Stravinsky’s infamous première of Le Sacre du printemps. Debussy is less overtly controversial than Stravinsky, but this remains music full of enigmatic tonal questions and a remarkably complex structure. This is one recording and performance in which all of the “brief, kaleidoscopically changing themes [and] orchestration continually in flux” of Roger Nichols’ booklet notes can be heard with startling clarity. This is tricky enough music to play let alone to create a choreography for or to dance to, but the imagination is set alight by such a brilliant performance. The booklet has a complete outline of the narrative, which is a fascinating read.
Nocturnes is nothing if not atmospheric in its outer movements, and the opening Nuages is superbly melancholic here. The weight of the brass chords in the central Fêtes will blow your socks off, and the choir of Sirènes is suitably distant and ethereal, if just a fraction below the note in places. I’ve always liked André Previn’s London Symphony Orchestra Debussy recording, to be found in various guises on EMI, and his Nocturnes is inspiring. The choir is a little more forward and vibrato laden than with Denève and the Chandos production is a little more glossy, but Previn stands as a reminder that even the best of new recordings can’t take away the superlatives from some of the classic versions.
I’ve pulled a few references out to make comparisons for these pieces, but this Chandos recording and Stéphane Denève’s conducting knocks most of them into a cocked tricorne. Jean Martinon’s EMI collection with the Orchestre National de l’ORTF (see review) has plenty of French character and pungency, but also includes plenty of edgy intonation. A more recent collection on single discs has emerged from the Naxos label with the Orchestre National de Lyon conducted by Jun Märkl, and the playing here is of a higher if more homogenised standard to Martinon. These recordings are full of beautiful moments and received mixed if generally positive reviews when released, but once again Denève has the Lyon orchestra beaten at every turn. The atmosphere is more uniquely breathtaking, the dance rhythms lighter and more convincingly driven, the recording a more balanced and integrated orchestral picture with the Naxos sound tending to be a touch too spotlit, picking out solos beautifully but losing that essential sense of integration when everything is brought together.
Moving on to the second disc, and a La Mer which again is strong on atmosphere. We all have our individual associations with this kind of work, and for me this is a seascape of abstracts rather than redolent of any specific region - southern, Atlantic, it could be any impressive seascape. String separation is a notable feature of some passages in De l’aube à midi sur la mer, the clarity in the 5th minute creating striking darting spatial effects.There’s a greater sense of threat and danger in Martinon’s Dialogue du vent et de la mer, Denève’s cleanliness of texture holding out a scene which has an extra layer of Turner-esque objectivity; superb for the imagination, but without the feeling that you are about to be dragged under, to wonder briefly if your wristwatch really is Water Resistant before being consumed by uncaring nature. The climaxes are magnificent however, and there are no real complaints to be heard from me.
Katherine Bryan’s limpid flute solo in Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune deserves a mention - every flautist’s dream moment. The beautifully rounded horn sound and everything else is also gorgeously sumptuous. This is of course one of Debussy’s sexiest scores, and the shimmering summer heat is beautifully portrayed, the effulgent scenario laid out with remarkable succulence. The Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire is something of a filler and gets a nice airing here. Printemps is a far more substantial addition, though with plenty of that earlier salon-style melodic facility which helped Debussy keep his head above water. This is however the first of his works to which the term ‘impressionism’ was applied, and the moods and orchestral sonorities are tinted with some remarkable colours and effects. This makes Printemps dangerously modern for its time, though this is hard to imagine that kind of opinion today with the RSNO’s rich string tones and lyrical fluidity.
The revised movements from Debussy’s early prizewinning cantata L’Enfant prodigue are closer to contemporary convention, but still manage to convey a strong pictorial sense, pre-echoing the composer’s responses to nature and poetry. Both this and the final Berceuse héroïque are produced with the same attention to detail as every other score in this collection. This final track is by no means a pompous celebration of heroism, but is in fact a rather quiet wartime “tribute to the Belgian King and People” which includes quotations from the national anthem ‘La Brabançonne’.  

This double SACD set has been packaged in a slimline cardboard box which further houses a substantial booklet with full notes on each piece in English, German and French. The SACD production is superb, as much for the luxuriant and sonic fidelity as for the 5.0 spread of sound, which at times develops astounding acuteness. Debussy’s orchestration and musical imagination is something which responds very well indeed to this treatment, and this is one collection in which you can bathe from beginning to end without having to change the bathwater. I’m not going to be critical in this regard, but some may see this collection as lacking in that last ounce of Gallic verve, the kind of edgy sense of near-anarchy which some older recordings can convey. The standard of playing and the layering of orchestral colours and harmonies are unsurpassed, and I will take this kind of playing, which does have its own character, over the inspired liabilities of numerous older recordings, classic status or no. To my ears this has been approached in the same way as baking cakes: that kind of cooking which demands carefully weighed and sifted alchemy to succeed. You may not want to be eating cake every day but the results here are delicious - moist and with great depth of flavour; not too sweet, and a feast for every sense - we’ll be keeping Mr Denève’s number and ordering more when the time comes.  

Dominy Clements

Masterwork Index: La Mer






Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Error processing SSI file