Debussy: La Mer; Première Suite d'Orchestre
‘Just about anyone with more than a passing interest in Debussy’s music will have a twofold reason for wanting to hear this disc. First, it has the first recording of the recently found Première Suite d’Orchestre. Lasting almost half an hour, it exists in complete form as a two piano version, while three of four movements were orchestrated by Debussy. As a whole, this early work has clear echoes of Saint-Saëns, Massenet and Fauré, but there are hints of the Debussy to come, and there is a similarity in spirit to the Petite Suite. If Debussy had yet to find aspects of his musical voice, it is still clearly the work of a very accomplished French composer from early in the Belle Epoque. Philippe Manoury’s orchestration of the third movement, ‘Rêve’ (Dream), may sound closer to Debussy’s mature textures, but this is still a marvellous discovery.
The performance by Les Siècles under François-Xavier Roth is very stylish and does the work proud. Moreover, as is their way, the Suite and accompanying La mer are played on period instruments. There is much to savour, from gut-stringed violins via the more clearly differentiated winds to the more throaty brass. There is also real liveliness and characterisation here, making it quite simply a better performance than Jos van Immerseel’s rival period instrument La mer. That said, while Les Siècles have instruments of Debussy’s time, the playing, in terms of vibrato and portamento, is much more recent in style, and the disc is on the short side.