Debussy: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4

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COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4: Le martyre de Saint Sébastien – symphonic fragments; Khamma – légende dansée (orch. Koechlin); Le roi Lear (orch. Roger-Ducasse); L’enfant prodigue
PERFORMER: Lyon National Orchestra/Jun Märkl
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572297

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There are times when composers should keep their mouths shut. Debussy sounded off on various occasions against religion of any kind except perhaps that of Nature, and understandably these fulminations have often been taken seriously.

From here, it’s a short step to presuming that any work of his that puts a toe into spiritual waters should be regarded with suspicion. True, La damoiselle élue has survived unscathed, but both his ‘mystery’ Le martyre de Saint Sébastien and his ‘danced legend’ Khamma have suffered unjustified neglect.

This recording will, I hope, do much to restore the balance. The four symphonic fragments and the prelude ‘La chambre magique’ contain much of the ‘mystery’s best music, mercifully shorn of d’Annunzio’s pretentious text, and Märkl draws beautiful playing from the Lyon orchestra, descending to true but telling pianissimos.

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If anything, they play even better in Khamma, which comes over as one of Debussy’s most inventive works – we should also tip our hats to Koechlin, who orchestrated most of it. For accuracy, I should add that further movements of Debussy’s King Lear incidental music have now been unearthed by Robert Orledge in addition to the two recorded here. In these, and in the extract from L’enfant prodigue, Märkl wisely does not try to make more of the music than exists. Roger Nichols