Debussy: La mer; Nocturnes; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Collins
WORKS: La mer; Nocturnes; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/The Philharmonia/Yevgeny Svetlanov
A full-blooded Russian turns to Debussy, with intriguing results. Certainly Svetlanov has the right orchestra for this music: the subtle singing of the Philharmonia winds (cor anglais outstanding in the first Nocturne) is more than matched at the hushed end of the dynamic scale by strings. At full pelt, that can sound glassier and less tidy than it did in Svetlanov’s live La mer; nor is there anything like the same orgiastic charge towards the finishing post that redeemed some still waters in the concert performance. Now it is the telling brass details, muted or otherwise, which are outstanding – trumpets undulate resplendently in the two massive breakers of the second-movement play of waves.


Ravishingly coloured, the faun of the Prélude barely rises from his grassy bed. No nymphs would be frightened by these very morose sexual advances at high noon, though Svetlanov still makes sure the long lines are shaped.


Best are the cloud- and siren-scapes of the Nocturnes, shaded with the conductor’s usual concern for nuance. I’m not quite sure about the Sixteen’s accurate but rather sexless soprano/alto team – the orchestra invariably outshines them in singerly phrasing. David Nice