Debussy: Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Glor
WORKS: Le martyre de Saint Sébastien
PERFORMER: Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano); Dagmar Pecková (mezzo-soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann (alto), Dörte Lyssewski (speaker); Collegium Vocale Gent; SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg SO/Sylvain Cambreling
CATALOGUE NO: GCO 8181 (2 Cd plus DVD)

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Apart from a gusty first contralto in the opening pages and occasional drowning of the voices by a highly enthusiastic orchestra (horns especially), this is an excellent performance, notable for radiant choral sopranos, sensitive tenors,
and an attention to details of colour and line that does credit to all concerned.

The work has not always had a good press, for reasons both religious and musical, but the impact here is of a composer working at full stretch, despite all his pantheistic pronouncements elsewhere. The presentation, however, is a quite different matter. No one nowadays would dream of using the whole of Gabriele d’Annunzio’s text, lasting as it does almost four hours, and Sylvain Cambreling has commissioned a shorter one in German from Martin Mosebach.

The ensuing mixture of German and the original French, if curious, is acceptable in principle; but why is there no translation of either in the booklet, although details of the performers are given in all three languages? D’Annunzio’s French is not always that simple (or indeed idiomatic) and, if one is going to commission a narrative text, it might seem sensible to let it be understood.

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As for the total lack of any mention of André Caplet who orchestrated well over half of the work, that is nothing short of a disgrace. Roger Nichols