Debussy • Stravinsky
Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; La mer; Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti
RCO Live 17111
Debussy plus early Stravinsky promises a kaleidoscope of orchestral colour, especially from the Royal Concertgebouw, an orchestra with an outstanding pedigree in this repertoire. True to form, the playing is ravishing in Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and exhibits a wide timbral palette in La mer, while Le Sacre bristles with characterful touches. Daniele Gatti is relatively restrained in the Debussy pieces and driven in the Stravinsky, though occasionally lame moments trip his otherwise sure-footed pacing. The cameras give plenty of opportunity to observe him coaxing and cajoling the orchestra. Sometimes this is not entirely beneficial, Gatti slouching back heavily in the ‘Procession of the Sage’, evokes the menace of a sleazy gangster nightclub more than pagan ritual.
The Royal Concertgebouw’s own label, RCO Live, usually has commendably high production values, and that initially appears to be the case here, but it is not long before it becomes apparent that something has gone seriously awry. Whether in surround or stereo, the sound periodically shifts from admirably clear to decidedly recessed and muffled. This may be to mask some extraneous noise in the hall, possibly Gatti’s vocalisations getting especially forthright, but it undermines the flow at key points, a grey cloud straying across the sun in the climax to ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’. If that were not frustrating enough, the music is frequently, but not always, out of synch with the picture, giving the impression that light travels more slowly than sound. While it is occasionally fascinating to see actions appear as an off-beat visual echo of the sound produced, Stravinsky’s music is disconcerting enough without such persistent dislocations on top. Sadly, whatever the merits of the performance, this film rapidly becomes unwatchable.