Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; Le Martyre de saint Sébastien; La mer
Philharmonia Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902310 57:04 mins
In addition to Debussy’s two most popular orchestral works, this disc offers a comparative rarity in the shape of the symphonic suite the composer put together out of the incidental music he composed in 1911 for the five-hour long mystery play Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien by the Italian writer, aviator and proto-fascist Gabriele d’Annunzio. Although it doesn’t, in the end, form a satisfactory whole, Debussy’s score is fascinating – from the ‘white’ music of ‘La Cour des lys’ (with the winds of the Philharmonia Orchestra here sounding admirably in tune), and the harmonic boldness of the ‘Danse extatique’ in which a fragment of courtly music at one point emerges out of the distance like some ghostly memory, to the melancholy of ‘Le bon Pasteur’, with its cor anglais solo reminiscent of the shepherd’s lament from the opening of the third act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Pablo Heras-Casado produces fine performances of all these pieces, with the Philharmonia’s unnamed flautist conveying just the right feeling of languor and expressive freedom in the solo passages of the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and La mer emerging in all its orchestral splendour. Heras- Casado doesn’t, perhaps, bring quite the same sense of suppressed excitement to the ‘Danse extatique’ from Le Martyre as does Charles Dutoit on his fine Montreal disc for Decca, which offers all three works found here and manages to throw in the great ballet Jeux as well; but this newcomer, with its superior recorded sound, is very welcome.