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Debussy: La mer; Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra etc

Martha Argerich (piano); Vienna Philharmonic/Daniel Barenboim et al (DG)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
483 7537_Debussy

La mer; Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra*; Violin Sonata; Cello Sonata
Michael Barenboim (violin), Kian Soltani (cello), *Martha Argerich (piano); Vienna Philharmonic/Daniel Barenboim (piano)
DG 483 7537   70:24 mins

As it happens, the most satisfying music-making in this ‘Barenboim and friends’ all-Debussy programme comes in the two least imposing works, the late Cello and Violin Sonatas. Michael Barenboim and Kian Soltani are the concertmaster and principal cellist of the Barenboim-founded West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, so the stellar quality of their playing is no more a surprise than Barenboim’s richly detailed and hyper-alert accompanying which never dominates proceedings. Meanwhile both high-powered soloists (Soltani particularly) respond with ideal finesse and restraint to the wry, whimsical manner of Debussy’s solo string writing.

In the two works featuring the Staatskapelle Berlin, however, there’s a paradoxical situation. La mer can surely never have been played more beautifully than here, with orchestral tone of soft-grained loveliness complemented by wonderful attention to Debussy’s hyper-detailed markings of articulation and dynamics: in the scherzo-like ‘Jeux de vagues’ second movement, the woodwind’s super-precise delivery of those repeated high-speed triplet figures is exquisite. But where’s Debussy’s sea, depicted in all its myriad shades and colours? What we have here sounds like an abstract concerto for orchestra, recorded all too symbolically in Vienna’s Musikvereinsaal at the heart of landlocked Austria; the menacing power of the storm-depicting finale, especially, just doesn’t come across. And while the orchestral component of the early Fantaisie is again gorgeously performed, there’s a cutting edge to the scintillation of Martha Argerich’s solo playing which feels at odds with the softly glowing orchestral colours all around.

Malcolm Hayes