Post by Randy Lane
Debussy is the subject of celebration this year with many special
releases and compilations. With the release of Ferber's piano
recordings the instrumental works have had much discussion.
How about now moving on to discuss the orchestral works, including the
major oft performed works and the few efforts made to record
everything (or nearly everything) with one orchestra/conductor? In the
cycle category I only know of the Martinon set and the forthcoming
Naxos; the Martinon, to my ears at least, suffers from a sub-standard
orchestra, and what I have read of the Naxos set due out soon suggest
it will get a pass. Are there other sets/cycles?
Images pour Orchestre
I have never explored this music extensively. Many recordings did
little for me when I was a fledgling music lover, and some in fact did
more to turn me off to Debussy than spur me on. A few very good
recordings though have kept me from totally dismissing Debussy, so
perhaps a few more great recordings can put me over the top and make
me a true fan.
Are there any great recordings no longer available that we could
"wish" into a reissue during these celebrations?
Yes, the orchestral playing in the Martinon recordings is a little
rough, but it is also very stylish and the orchestra at that time
still had a very noticeably French sound. In particularly the
woodwinds have a lot of color and character, and I think this set
comes pretty close to the sound world Debussy had in mind. In addition
spot on stylistically and musically. I think you should have this set
and I also think you will enjoy it a lot if you focus more on color
and character than the many small imperfections of the orchestral
There are plenty of good Debussy recordings, but I would strongly
recommend Dutoit's recordings from Montreal. The sound and playing
style of the orchestra leans towards the traditional French style, the
playing highly accomplished and polished, and the recorded sound very
good, rich but transparent and detailed. Dutoit is often dismissed as
a boring routinier, but I have never shared that opinion. I find his
conducting stylish and detail-attentive, and not even particularly
understated. I enjoy most if not all his Montreal recordings (not just
When it comes to La Mer specifically, one of my favorites is
Philharmonia/Sinopoli, perhaps somewhat predictably because I am known
to be a Sinopoli fan, but this recording nicely illustrates why that
is. The orchestral playing is very good, and Sinopoli had a special
sense for color which is very noticeable in this recording.
Another favorite is LA/Giulini, rather darker sounding, but very
lyrical and expressive.
Also - this may surprise some people because it is not fashionable to
praise Barenboim, but I think his Debussy recordings with the
Orchestre de Paris are actually very good. The OdP was specifically
founded, or re-founded because it was felt that the general level of
orchestral playing in France was lacking at the time. After a bumpy
start with Munch, who died soon after the founding of the orchestra,
Karajan, who was never there, and Solti, for whom the orchestra was
not a priority either, Barenboim took over and he did a lot of very
good work there. His Debussy recordings are very meticulously
prepared, the orchestral playing has a French sound and feel but it is
rather more polished than what you hear on earlier French recordings,
there is great attention to detail, so I find these very satisfying to
listen to. The La Mer, for instance, is one of those performances
which sound "just right" to me. Barenboim paid a lot of attention to
all the fine detail but doesn't neglect the overall picture either.
I concur with the merits of and recommendations for Barenboim and Martinon.
the descriptions of each are spot on.
Sinopoli at all. I suspect I
might like the Sinopoli.