Debussy - La Mer, Images
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Cat No: 9029568704
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 6th April 2018
ArtistsOrchestre national de France
For Debussy, even less than for the Beethoven of the “Pastoral” Symphony, writing about nature does not mean naïvely imitating it by portraying the elements or the meteorological phenomena that animate them; descriptive music suits neither the flexibility of his music nor his creative temperament. Instead, he invents, he responds to nature through his art, setting up something else in contrast to it. By contrast, “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (which Debussy originally entitled “Le vent fait danser la mer”) is more dramatic, more affirmative, and therefore less sparkling. Shimmering haze is replaced by powerful impulse. The music sweeps along with a sense of violent ecstasy, reflecting the composer’s lifelong love of the sea.
La Mer was premiered on 15 October 1905 at the Concerts Lamoureux, conducted by Camille Chevillard. Debussy did later decide to change one short section of its finale, however: there was originally a fanfare in bars 237-244 which he decided was inappropriate, cutting it when he revised the score in 1909 for a new edition. This recording, based on the final version, also includes an excerpt of “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” that does feature the fanfare.
1La Mer, L. 111a: I. De l'aube à midi sur la mer
2La Mer, L. 111a: II. Jeux de vagues
3La Mer, L. 111a: III. Dialogue du vent et de la mer
4Images, L. 118a: I. Gigues
5Images, L. 118a: II. Iberia - Par les rues et par les chemins
6Images, L. 118a: II. Iberia - Les parfums de la nuit
7Images, L. 118a: II. Iberia - Le matin d'un jour de fête
8Images, L. 118a: III. Rondes de printemps
9La Mer, L. 111a: III. Dialogue du vent et de la mer (With fanfare)
Krivine has recorded both La Mer and the orchestral Images before, with the Orchestre philharmonique de Luxembourg in 2009, and in the mid-1990s with the Orchestre national de Lyon. This is music he is thoroughly steeped in, and his vast experience shows. Now, at the helm of an orchestra that has counted the likes of Inghelbrecht, Desormière and Martinon among its principal conductors and music directors, he shows us how Debussy created music that could have a disarmingly direct impact on the listener.
There’s a briny quality to this performance of La Mer, with splendidly throaty woodwind: none of that wayward, nasal quality of old, but still distinctly Gallic in the way it cuts through textures. French-flavoured, too, are the horns and brass, but with a newfound warmth, while strings are superbly pliant. Best of all are the double-reeds, with cor anglais and bassoons adding a decidedly tangy feel to the textures. And while there’s no micro-management or fetishising of dynamics, Krivine’s unfailing musicality creates a splendid sense of drive as wave upon wave of sound comes at the listener. In the central Jeux de vagues, he knows just how to evoke the music’s rhythmically elusive qualities without recourse to a washed-out sound palette. Similarly, in the Dialogue du vent et de la mer there’s a mood of menace at the outset, and a superbly inevitable build-up to the final pages without pushing the music too fast. In Krivine’s performance, you feel above all the dramatic forces of nature at work, and it’s an account to live with, revealing the work’s beauties not all-at-once but steadily on repeated listening.
With a well-focused but warm recording, the antiphonally divided violins help to open up Debussy’s marvellously rich string textures, and there’s a bonus in the form of the work’s original ending with brass fanfares, while the main recording is of Debussy’s definitive 1909 version of the score.
Images is just as impressive. The opening, which can tempt conductor’s to almost intangible levels of audibility, has just enough presence, and the oboe d’amore melody at 0:44 of Gigues is wonderfully melancholic. For the triptych-within-a-triptych, Ibéria, Krivine doesn’t overdo the Spanish flavours but instead goes for an earthy robustness. The central Parfums de la nuit, like Jeux de vagues in La Mer, is very special, with rich yet grainy playing from the lower strings, and the suppleness crucially has underlying backbone that comes from years of experience with the score. The transition to Le Matin d’un jour de fête is as magical as anything you’ll hear on disc, with exquisite flute playing and brilliantly balanced tolling bells. In Rondes de printemps, Krivine gives a masterclass in just when to give the music the breathing space it needs, building to a deliciously throwaway ending.
With so many discs appearing and reappearing for this year’s Debussy centenary, the choice before listeners might seem overwhelming. But here’s a single disc that really does deserve attention, with a very special French feel to it and performances of real stature and assurance, and it won’t burn a hole in your pocket. It’s a tremendous start to Krivine’s tenure at the ONF: more, please!
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