Debussy: Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune; Nocturnes; La mer; Berceuse heroique

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Telarc
ALBUM TITLE: Debussy
WORKS: Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune; Nocturnes; La mer; Berceuse heroique
PERFORMER: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi
CATALOGUE NO: CD 80617
You may be able to tell how much you will like this CD from the very opening flute phrases of L’apres-midi d’un faune. The sound is astonishingly vivid and close, the playing wonderfully subtle in its rubato, but when the first pause comes it is as if the performance has stopped – there is just dead silence. The vividness of the recording, in line with Telarc’s uncannily high standards, does mean that every sound or silence registers with a precision and clarity that I feel are alien to at least some of this music. In the first of the Nocturnes, it would be possible to copy down the score, such is the lucidity and precision of the playing: but the piece is called ‘Nuages’ (Clouds), and the impression here is much more of separate drops than of a white or grey mass, the orchestral playing oddly prosaic. The next section, ‘Fêtes’, fares better, and so does ‘Sirènes’, thanks to the blurring effect of the chorus. Yet I wonder whether this kind of music benefits from all this immaculateness.

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There is nothing sloppy about the playing of the same pieces from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, under either van Beinum and Haitink, but in each case I find that there is an atmosphere with them that is lacking from the Cincinnati Orchestra, for all Paavo Järvi’s care in balancing and his tumultuous climaxes in La mer. The Haitink discs have everything on this Telarc disc, and several other things too, and at bargain price. I strongly prefer them. Michael Tanner