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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images pour orchestre (1912) [35.24]
Jeux (1913) [18.26]
La plus que lente (1912) [6.31]
San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
rec. 22/25 May 2014 (Images), 10/13 January 2013 (Jeux), 26/28 September 2013 (La plus que lente) Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
SFS MEDIA SACD SFS0069 [60.21]

In 2015 I relished the release of John Adams’ Absolute Jest and Grand Pianola Music from the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas ( review). The latest offering from the partnership, an album of three Debussy orchestral works, is equally as desirable.

With his orchestral masterworks works L’Après-midi d’un faune, Nocturnes and La Mer Debussy established himself as a seminal composer of the twentieth-century. Following completion of La Mer, Debussy wrote his Images pour orchestre during the period 1905-12. The score is cast in three movements Gigues, Ibéria and Rondes de printemps. In distinct sections with picturesque titles, Ibéria is itself a triptych. Containing the melody of the Northumberland folk song ‘Keel Row’ in Gigues, Tilson Thomas evokes early morning mist over secluded lakes while Ibéria vividly portrays the burnished tones and warm sultry Spanish rhythms. Gallic folk rhythms are never far away in Rondes de printemps, with Tilson Thomas ensuring the playing of the wild and rugged character remains stylish.
The final work that Debussy wrote for orchestra, Jeux was commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes with choreography by Nijinsky. In 1913 at Paris the work was premièred under Pierre Monteux who, incidentally, was music director of the San Francisco Symphony during the period 1935-52. An influential and daring work, with Jeux Debussy eschews traditional harmony and form. Revelling in the score Tilson Thomas and his players create a range of vivid colours and quite glorious textures. The final work on the disc is La plus que lente his ‘slower than slow’ waltz from 1912. This is Debussy’s affectionate response to the Parisian fashion of the day for slow waltzes and is ravishingly played here by the San Francisco Symphony.
Tilson Thomas directs splendidly with noticeably well judged tempos, drawing glowingly characterised textures. Clearly relishing every note of these marvellous scores the San Francisco Symphony is in masterful form creating numerous magical episodes in performances that can bear comparison with the finest in the catalogue.
Played on my standard player the sound team on this hybrid SACD achieves high quality sound, warm and vividly clear with impeccable balance. Recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall any extraneous noise is minimal. The booklet contains a note from Tilson Thomas and a helpful article taken from Michael Steinberg’s orchestra programme booklets.

A credit to all concerned this is a beautifully played and recorded release that I will play often.
Michael Cookson



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