Claude Debussy: La Mer; Première Suite D'orchestre. Les Siècles / François-Xavier Roth. © 2022 harmonia mundi musique sas

CD Spotlight

A Great Pairing

GEOFF PEARCE listens to orchestral works by Debussy

'This recording will be one that delights you again and again.'


I have been interested in performances of works played on instruments from around the period that the works were written, and have reviewed a previous disc of Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth playing Debussy. As he and this ensemble are a combination I admire, I was pleased to receive this recording.

I had not heard the first work, Première Suite D'orchestre before. It was composed whilst Debussy was still a student between the years 1882-1884. It was then forgotten for many years, only being mentioned in 1977, and being rediscovered in 2008. There was one manuscript with four movements for two pianos and the other, three movements (with the third movement lost). The third movement, Rève, was later reconstructed from the two piano version by Philippe Manoury. He did a masterly orchestration, quite in keeping with the other three movements.

Listen — Debussy: Rève (Première Suite D'orchestre)
(HMM 905369 track 3, 2:42-3:29) ℗ 2013 harmonia mundi musique sas:

This is a glorious and joyful recording. Roth had presented the work in concert with a few orchestras, and recorded this along with La Mer in 2013. This recording has since been remastered and is now presented by harmonia mundi. The instrumental sound is sumptuous and colourful, the conductor's direction is compelling and the work itself is a very attractive addition to the repertoire. This is also a world first recording. The four movements are 1: Fête; 2: Ballet; 3: Rève and 4: Cortège et Bacchanale.

Listen — Debussy: Cortège et Bacchanale (Première Suite D'orchestre)
(HMM 905369 track 4, 6:26-7:14) ℗ 2013 harmonia mundi musique sas:

The second work on the recording, La Mer, composed in 1903 and published in 1905, is one of Debussy's best-known works and will be familiar to most concert goers and classical music lovers. Debussy was strongly attracted to the sea: indeed he is reported as saying that if he had not engaged in a musical career, he would have wanted to be a sailor.

This performance is one of the very best I have ever heard of this work, and the attention to detail, the beauty of sound captured in this recording, not to mention that all the wind instruments and the harp performing here are French instruments that were mostly made during Debussy's lifetime, is astounding. There is a luminosity and clarity here that is often lost on other recordings. I wonder how much of this is due to the choice of instruments used, and I suspect this has a lot to do with it. Another feature that impresses me a great deal is the actual balance of the sections and the very pleasing ambiance.

Listen — Debussy: De l'aube à midi sur la mer (La Mer)
(HMM 905369 track 5, 7:43-8:43) ℗ 2013 harmonia mundi musique sas:

This recording is a great pairing of an early Debussy work, never recorded before, along with a mature very well known work, with instruments that the composer himself would have been familiar with and very well may have heard, along with a conductor who, in my mind, is one of the finest interpreters of French orchestral music today. This recording will be one that delights you again and again.

Copyright © 20 October 2022 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








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