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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Prelude to Pénélope [7.59]
Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80 (suite orchestrated by Charles Koechlin) [17.06]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Ariettes oubliées (orch. Brett Dean) [17.47]
La mer [24.40]
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Robin Ticciati
rec. 2017, Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin
LINN CKD550 [68.00]

Experience has shown me that London born Robin Ticciati is a conductor worthy of attention. Engaged as music director at Glyndebourne since 2014 I am sure that his term as music director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO Berlin) will be a productive one. A former principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a principal guest conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra I saw Ticciati at first hand in 2011 conducting the Hallé at Manchester in programme of Berlioz, Mozart and Brahms describing him in my report as “fearsomely gifted.” On the Linn label I found Ticciati’s 2015 release of three Haydn symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra worthy of significant praise (review)

Released by Linn Records, in this all-French album of works by leading composers Fauré and Debussy, Ticciati and the DSO Berlin are joined in a world première recording by renowned Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená. An exceptional artist I was delighted to interview Kožená in 2014 at Berlin.

The opening two works are from the pen of Fauré commencing with the Prelude to Pénélope an opera with a libretto based on Homer's Odyssey. In the three acts the opera was premiered in 1913 at Salle Garnier, Monte Carlo. Fauré’s Pénélope, his second opera, is rarely performed today; however, the overture is sometimes encountered in the concert hall. Here Ticciati’s interpretation ranges from controlled muscularity to glorious episodes of tender expression. Next comes the suite which Fauré prepared from incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Fauré completed the music in 1898 which was left unorchestrated a task undertaken by his pupil Charles Koechlin. With masterly direction Ticciati revels in the gleaming atmosphere of Koechlin’s orchestration. Especially outstanding is the much loved Sicilianne played quite enchantingly and the Mort de Mélisande has a calm and elusive quality contrasted with passages of drama.

Debussy is also represented by two works, the first of which is the première recording of Ariettes oubliées in Brett Dean’s orchestration. Debussy was fascinated by the poems of Paul Verlaine and completed his settings of the song cycle Ariettes oubliées (Forgotten Songs) with piano accompaniment in 1887. Brett Dean gave the first performance of his orchestration at Sydney in 2015 and the collaboration of Dean with Debussy’s score has produced a most worthwhile addition to the orchestral song cycle repertoire. Under Ticciati the DSO Berlin plays superbly, producing a euphoric atmosphere that feels intoxicating. At the peak of her powers Magdalena Kožená is as outstanding here as I can imagine. With her smoky toned mezzo-soprano sounding in outstanding condition her tuning, phrasing and projection are quite splendidly maintained throughout. For those wanting to explore more of Kožená artistry I can recommended the remarkable albums: Love and Longing (2012 - review), stunning accounts of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, Dvořák’s Biblical Songs and Ravel’s Shéhérazade conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and her release of mainly Monteverdi arias and other Italian baroque vocal works (2016 - review) with La Cetra under Andrea Marcon. Both released on Deutsche Grammophon.

The final work on the album is a masterpiece - Debussy’s La mer which, along with his Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune is one of the best-loved works in classical music. Completed in 1905 the score was premièred in Paris by the Orchestre Lamoureux under Camille Chevillard. Cast in three symphonic sketches titled ‘From Dawn to Midday on the Sea’, ‘Play of the Waves’ and ‘Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea’ it’s an opulent score and a highly evocative impression of the sea that has become a classic of the impressionistic style. With refined assurance Ticciati communicates convincing and colourful images of the sea with fluidity from gentle play of the waves through to perilous storms. La mer has been recorded countless times and, being unable to settle on one particular account there are several classic accounts that I regularly play; notably: Reiner/Chicago Symphony/RCA (1960); Karajan/Berliner Philharmoniker/DG (1964); Haitink/Concertgebouw/Philips (1976) and also Rattle Berliner Philharmoniker/EMI (live 2004). Certainly this account from DSO Berlin under Ticciati bears comparison with the finest around and is one I will play often.

Produced at Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin, a renowned recording studio, the engineering team is to be congratulated for providing warm and clear sound quality, pleasingly balanced. The booklet contains a substantial essay by Paul Roberts entitled ‘Debussy and Faure - Parallel Lives (1886-1913)’ and it is gratifying to report that sung texts with English translations are provided.

On Linn Records, this quite outstanding album of Fauré and Debussy works certainly whets the appetite for future releases from Robin Ticciati with the DSO Berlin.

Michael Cookson


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