Debussy/Ravel: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone; La mer; La valse; Boléro

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COMPOSERS: Debussy/Ravel
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone; La mer; La valse; Boléro
PERFORMER: Kenneth Radnofsky (saxophone) New York PO/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-13133-2
Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic are scarcely the first team that leaps to mind for this repertory, and although these performances are mostly pleasing I can’t say they are especially idiomatic or full of insight. Part of the problem lies with the recorded sound. Instrumental timbres are rich and lifelike, but don’t always blend well; it is difficult to know whether to blame Masur or the recording engineer for imbalances that defeat effects implied by the score of La mer. In Boléro, an eventual retreat from close miking to a perspective that can accommodate the concluding full outburst may well distort Masur’s conception. Instead of yoking a gradual increase in volume with a corresponding slackening of decorum, as is customary, this account as recorded seems earthy in the solos, Prussian at the climax.

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The orchestra’s playing is accomplished but rarely airy or elegant, although Masur approaches this ideal with patient texturing in restrained sections of La valse. Debussy’s saxophone Rapsodie, a notorious potboiler, goes acceptably, but from the opening flute solo on, melodic phrases of this Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune lack rhythmic profile and impetus – is this playing the cause of Masur’s immobile tempi, or the result? David Breckbill