Chausson/Debussy/Ravel

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chausson/Debussy/Ravel
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Poème de l’amour et de la mer; La mer; Une barque sur l’océan
PERFORMER: Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano)Philadelphia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55120 2 DDD
All three seascapes come from the same artistic milieu, after Symbolism and Wagner had reared their heads. Chausson’s is the most lavish and Romantic, an orchestral poem as much as a song cycle, played with splendour and sung with unstinted feeling. But what feeling – the sensuous charge of the French poems, or a deeper ache? Meier’s Germanic diphthongs take away some of the elegance, but her instinct for delving between the lines is not misplaced, and as the mood darkens and turns inward she makes an especially intense experience of the last few minutes. This is a good alternative to famous recordings by Jessye Norman and Janet Baker.

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Debussy brings disappointment, in that there is little urgent or elemental about the performance. At what is supposed to be daybreak the music seems to stretch, turn over and go back to sleep. Phrasing of the melodies will bulge, the endings bring majesty without excitement. It is beautifully presented, with a subtle percussion balance that suits the fleeting visions of the central ‘wave-play’. But for a more gripping Italianate approach try Toscanini’s recording, or the first of Giulini’s; otherwise look to Ashkenazy or Tortelier. Ravel fares better, with an inexorable rise and fall of glowering chords. Robert Maycock