Debussy
Première Suite d’Orchestre
La mer – three symphonic sketches
Les Siècles
François-Xavier Roth

Suite recorded 2 February in Cité de la musique, Paris & 13 October 2012 at abbaye de Royaumont; La mer recorded 13 April 2012 in Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
CD No: LES SIÈCLES LIVE/ACTES SUD MUSICALES ASM10
Duration: 51 minutes
Reviewed: October 2013
This first recording of Debussy’s Première Suite d’Orchestre proves a good find, the music recognisably French and pleasurable on its own terms for its appealing melodies, lightness of touch and colourful orchestration, displaying something of Chabrier, Delibes and Massenet at times, and none the worse for that. It’s a student work composed while Debussy (1862-1918) was at the Paris Conservatoire. If an individual voice is yet to be fully discerned, there are certain details, harmonies and phrases that do suggest him. At 28 minutes or so the Suite is quite substantial, the third-movement ‘Rêve’ being especially atmospheric and suggestive, really quite lovely. It’s scoring has been completed by Philippe Manoury, very sympathetically. The other movements, in order of appearance, are ‘Fête’, ‘Ballet’ and ‘Cortège et Bacchanale’, the latter being the longest section, nearly ten minutes, and ceremonial and dreamy by turns. The virtuoso and sensitive members of Les Siècles, utilising instruments contemporary with the time of the composition, under François-Xavier Roth give an exemplary performance of this virtually unknown work, only catalogued in 1977 as a reduction for piano, the orchestral score then believed to be lost.
Similar attention to period niceties inform La mer, one of Debussy’s greatest creations, written between 1903 and 1905. The musicians of Les Siècles use gut strings, characterful woodwinds and lower-volume, softer-grained, yet raspy when needed brass; and they all make an invaluable contribution. Not only do these specific timbres illuminate the music in a special way but there is an internal clarity that falls naturally when the instruments are so closely matched as well as being so distinctive. The result is revealingly pellucid. Roth has the measure of this wonderful music, pacing it ideally, building and relaxing tension in just the right places. The second-movement ‘Play of the Waves’ is both flexible and deft, and there is plenty of tension in the finale, ‘Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea’, and power when required (although not the ad lib brass fanfares, unfortunately). To get an idea of how this music originally sounded, and what Debussy might have expected, is tangible here and makes for enlightening listening. The recordings (two works in three locations!) are uniformly good and capture the smallest detail.

 

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